If you’re a baseball fan of a certain age (OK, if you’re really old), you will probably recall Yogi Berra drinking Yoo-Hoo in commercials. In fact, he was synonymous with the brand (some people thought he owned the company). People loved Yogi, Yogi loved Yoo-Hoo, ergo, you should love Yoo-Hoo too. That’s pretty much how celebrity endorsements work, right? A famous person lends their brand equity to another brand, transferring positive attributes to the brand and for which the brand pays.
(Complete digression) According to his autobiography, Yogi was answering the phones at Yoo-Hoo one day and a woman calls to ask if Yoo-Hoo is hyphenated. His response: “No ma’am, it’s not even carbonated.’ “(/Complete digression)
I’ve written before about the modern digital equivalent of celebrity endorsements which is called influencer marketing. Some of the digital celebrities have huge followings even though in comparison to the older definition of celebrities – sports or entertainment stars – their audiences are niche. That hasn’t stopped many brands from paying the influencers to say nice things about their products. The problem is that unlike seeing the old kind of brand endorsement in a commercial the consumer can’t know for sure if the endorsement has been a paid insertion or whether the influencer just really likes something.
I bring this up because even though the FTC has some pretty strict rules in place with respect to disclosing payments for endorsements to prevent consumer confusion, new data from influencer marketing and media platform SheSpeaks shows that one out of four influencers has been asked not to disclose their commercial arrangements with a brand. That’s bad and self-defeating.
A while back I tweeted nice things about TSA Pre-check but the TSA didn’t ask me to do so. The folks who saw the tweet (and anything here on the screed while we’re on the topic) can rely that it was my honest opinion and not the result of money changing hands. Why would a quarter of brands want to hide the payments? Do they think the message contained in the post on Instagram or Facebook or Snapchat is compromised if it’s known money changed hands? I think we all knew Yogi said nice things because he was paid but we also assumed he liked the product. Most endorsers I know don’t just cash the check to endorse any old thing. They realize that the brand is also a reflection on them. Either side hiding the payment works to the detriment of both.
This problem isn’t going to go away as influencer marketing continues to grow as a platform. Endorsements haven’t gone away over the years and won’t. Actresses will be given free gowns to wear on red carpets. Jocks will drink Gatorade. One can only hope that all parties involved keep it transparent and above board so it doesn’t become yet another good idea that was disrupted by a few bad actors. You agree?