If you’ve ever watched a popular creator’s video on YouTube, you’ve likely experienced hearing the words “this video is sponsored by…”. Pretty soon, you’ve found yourself skipping through thirty seconds of a pretty rehearsed spiel that sounds like it’s been written by someone else (spoiler: it has).
Similarly, when you’re scrolling through Instagram, you’re probably going to come across a post by an influencer that may at first glance appear to just be a really enthusiastic customer review about a product…. until you see the ‘Paid Partnership’ label and ‘#ad’ in the caption.
This phenomenon of social media advertising through famous creators on these platforms has been an increasingly popular marketing strategy for a lot of companies. The question is: why? And… does it work?
Generally, the two most common industries that you’ll see represented in social media advertising is beauty and online services. Function of Beauty, a customisable haircare product service, and Sugarbear Hair, a brand of vitamin supplement gummies, are probably brand names that are familiar to social media users. Or, you may have heard about Honey, a chrome extension that finds discount codes for online shoppers, and SeatGeek, a concert ticket website.
The pattern in the types of companies that are choosing to go this route is that they mostly cater to the older teen to young millennial age demographics, who are also the biggest user bases on social media sites (surprise, surprise). You don’t really see retirement wealth advisors advertising through Instagram. Companies know who they cater to, and have found a direct pipeline to them.
It’s not cheap for companies to pay somebody to advertise their product or service – depending on the brand and how famous the influencer or celebrity is, a 20-second shout out or a post on IG could cost a company anywhere from 1 grand to a million bucks.
So… who are these people, and why do companies want to advertise through them? The list of the different kinds of creators that often do sponsored deals is pretty much endless: lifestyle and fashion creators, travel bloggers, comedians, vloggers, and every single one of the Kardashians – just to name a few.
Whether it’s a glamorous photoshoot on their Instagram with a teeth whitening device or a 30-second rave about a VPN chrome extension in a Youtube video, creators with millions of subscribers and followers often are approached to advertise a product or service, and these ads are viewed hundreds of thousands – even millions – of times by internet users.
There is an implied trust that exists between the creators and the people who are subscribed to them, though – particularly with longtime subscribers that have been way back when that person only had a handful of followers and zero endorsement opportunities – when the content was being put out for fun and not necessarily to make money. But that trust and respect that’s been built up between a creator and their audience is what’s so often exploited when it comes to these influencers accepting endorsement deals.
“Sometimes it just feels so off-putting and out of place. The ad can sound completely different from their normal personalities.”ONE SAS STUDENT’S RESPONSE TO A SURVEY ON paid sponsorships
Not every aspect of sponsorships is as glamorous for influencers as it might seem. Yes, they get free stuff from brands, and money for endorsing them, but they’re also costing themselves the genuine connections they have with their audience.
Unless creators are able to make sponsorships more than a copy-and-paste advertisement and instead present them in a way that reflects their own personal brand and content feel, the audience then feels, in a way, ambushed. Viewers are likely to be thrown off by the stark difference in the content they are used to seeing from that person — and in turn, the authenticity of the creator in the eyes of their fans slowly diminishes.
Another red flag when it comes to this topic: influencers not knowing (or not caring) what they’re advertising. One example of this is the recent controversy with wellness app, BetterHealth, described by the company as the “largest online counselling platform worldwide” that offers one-on-one online counselling geared towards people dealing with issues “such as stress, anxiety, depression, addictions, eating, sleeping, trauma, anger, family conflicts, LGBT matters, grief” and more.
The company paid famous YouTubers like Gabbie Hanna and Heath Hussar to advertise them to their millions of subscribers, and these influencers used the word “professional” to describe the service.
However, after many mental health advocates spoke up about their negative experiences with the app, internet users looked through the fine print of the company’s terms of service, and found it explicitly states that [BetterHealth] “does not guarantee the verification of, the skills, degrees, qualifications, licensure, certification, credentials, competence or background of any Counselor”.
“I don’t really think doing ads are wrong. [Influencers] need to get paid like anyone else. But, that doesn’t mean they get a free pass to lie.”ANOTHER SAS STUDENT’S RESPONSE ON THE MORALITY OF SPONSORSHIPS
Similarly, actress and activist Jameela Jamil has been praised for criticising Khloe Kardashian and Cardi B for promoting weight loss teas such as FitTea and Flat Tummy Tea – non-FDA approved, laxative teas to majority young, female, largely-impressionable audiences.
In the end, we as consumers are the ones that these ads try to engage with. Clearly, it works well enough, because sponsorships aren’t stopping. And, there’s a level of understanding between creators and audiences – we have come to expect these ads, and we don’t ‘cancel’ or call out creators as soon as they do them.
I would be lying to you if I said that I don’t have Function of Beauty shampoo and conditioner sitting in my shower… that I only bought because Kelsey Kreppel told me to in a YouTube video. But hey, I really like it, and I don’t think I would have heard of it otherwise.
The point is, sponsored posts and ads on social media aren’t inherently bad. They can be great for companies and services looking for new customer demographics, they help out YouTubers and other content creators that rely on the extra income to keep producing content, and we as consumers can end up with new finds that we actually really like.
But, at the same time, we should approach everything with a grain of salt. Even if the creators we’re watching say they will only advertise things that “work for them”, when someone is getting paid to advertise something they’ll be trying their best to sell it… even if it means stretching the truth.