Advertise, accordingly to Oxford learners dictionary is
“to tell the public about a product or a service in order to encourage people to buy or to use it”.
But long are the days magazines, catalogs and TV were the main source of advertise. Digital age changed it all and it´s up to the brands to constantly update their marketing strategy in order to sell. Engagement seems to be the key word (at least the priority, for both brands and content creators) when it comes to advertise in social media and it´s getting quite expensive as time goes by.
The trouble seems to be the effectiveness of this new form of advertise – a few years have passed since paid ads were launched both on facebook and instagram and it´s time to face the facts. On one hand they’re proven to be very much effective (for instances, when a paid add pops in middle of your regular instagram stories, you’re more likely to buy. Why? Those adds take into consideration your preferences and artificial intelligence can work too well). But on the other hand, with so many people trying to advertise (either their new paid collaboration post or a brand’s new Fall collection) it is becoming quite difficult to access “normal” content without getting annoyed.
Having too much information circulating, the difficulty seems to be how to process it in order to maximize sales without making people getting tired of the product. Brands use a lot influencer marketing but sometimes their strategy simply doesn’t work – imagine having several influencers practically at the same time posting different photos with the same products. I’ve seen this happen before and reactions were terrible. My point being – aren’t we advertising in a wrong and deceitful way?
After laying my eyes on a BOF article about advertise in the digital age my mind instantly thought about the role bloggers and influencers have in this process and an additional problem – how they contributed to the lack of transparency in the entire advertising process. If the regular customer is capable of understanding what an add is in the typical adverting channels, things may not be that clear when it comes to social media.
If you’re a content creator chances are you know how this works. But i´ll try to clarify for everyone who isn’t. Whenever I receive a collaboration proposal I know in advance the terms and conditions, which I’ve agreed with, meaning I know what my obligations are and what do I need to comply with. So before I even received the product(s) I already know the timeline to publish photos, instagram stories, videos, etc; I know there will be a discount code that I´m going to share with my followers; etc.
And since I’ve mentioned discount codes, you should know that either I receive a commission from the sales generated from that code or I don’t receive anything. This means when someone is an ambassador for a certain brand, they’ll be receiving commissions each time someone uses their code. Tracking links are also a thing – each ambassador has one, so that the brand knows how the costumers got there.
I could write a long post regarding the difference between #ad and #gifted or even #sponsored. Because that’s how you would normally find out what sort of collaboration it was and if there actually is a collab. But you’ll find several content creators using the hashtags without really understanding their meaning and many of them not even using anything to identity the collaboration when there’s clearly one. And even thought Instagram gave a major step towards transparency and gave content creators the possibility to identify their business partners, the only option available is the paid collaboration. What about barter collabs (when the brand sends the product and doesn’t pay you, to simplify, which is what happens most of the times)?
There are certain signs that you should be aware of to understand if you’re in the presence of a collaboration, even thought you might not fully understand if it was a paid one, an ambassadors program, a barter collab, … Or simply a pitch to the brand without any commercial background that looks very much like a collaboration yet it isn’t.
The caption states clearly something very connected to the brand. Almost like it wasn’t even written by the person who posted it. Often, brands like to suggest you what to write in the caption or certain key words that need to be there.
Hasthags. Whenever you see not-so-typical- influencer hashtags and they’re completely related with the brand – maybe 3 or 4 tops directed to the product/campaign, right after the caption (and most certainly not in the comment section), you have a pretty strong hint that it was a collaboration.
Tagged people. I´d say this is the most fallible criteria, since many people don’t tag the brand only but chances are, if you see only one brand tagged, it was a collaboration.
Comment section. Too much compliments on the product? There’s no obligation to talk wonders, of course. Specially if it´s a review of something that can affect your health truth must be told, plain and simple. But when it comes to collaborations, it may be harder for some people to speak out the truth and say the product isn’t as good as it promises to be. Why? You don’t want to look bad. You accepted to collaborate and try the product, most of the times without experimenting or testing it. You can check for reviews before accepting it but they’ll all be identical. Despite doing a full research on the brand before accepting it, I can only have a verdict after testing for a while (long term results can be quite deceiving, so I make sure I test everything for as long as I can). Sometimes it´s easier to avoid collaborating with the brand whose product wasn’t that good instead of “doing bad publicity”. So if you see someone adverting different products at different timings from the same brand, chances are the collaboration went well and the products are indeed what they promised. Again, this may not be entirely true. It is also a matter of values and self-conscience.
This sort of behavior from content creators usually leads to a rather negative reaction. After all, you’re being mislead into buying something without even noticing it was previously advertised. It almost feels like you got trapped into buying something that, afterwards, wasn’t even that good. The lack of effective regulation on the matter doesn’t help, it is all very new and constantly changing. Everything evolves so quickly that it is hard to keep track of how everything is processed.
So in the meantime, and because in the end of the day we all influence someone, here’s a little tip – don’t search for the obvious signs. Be aware of the little details. Uncover the layers. Ask, if necessary. The important thing is that you can make a clear choice. If it´s something related with your health such as food, skincare products, for starters see if you can ask/get samples. Advertising in digital age should come with more privileges regarding information, since you can ask directly and without any constraints to the person who’s advertising anything you find relevant. After all, isn’t proximity (one of the reasons) why bloggers and influencers grew so much in such short time?