After years of being bombarded with product placement selfies and inauthentic shout-outs, celebrity social media does not hold sway over the consumer like it used to. Can we believe that Kylie Jenner’s pert derrière is due to PureLeef’s moisturiser? Do we really accept that almost every C-list celebrity in Hollywood is using CocoWhite teeth whitening cream? Of course not. Kim K will still help you push product if you pay her, but consumers will take these endorsements for what they are: sponsored content and not actual opinions. Yes, folks, the average consumer has learnt to be wary of the transparency issues surrounding celebrities and the ‘Insta-Famous’. In fact, the FDA (USA Food and Drug Administration) have finally begun to enforce regulations regarding product placement posts on social media. But as one door closes, another one opens. Although consumers can see through dodgy product placements, there is a new trend within the digital space that is equally alarming.
Native advertising has been around for decades. The whole concept surrounds presenting sponsored content that works in line with platform aesthetics. Take away the logo and consumers shouldn´t be able to tell it is an ad. Think of David Ogilvy’s classic 50s advertorial, ‘Guinness Guide to Cheese’. Given the rise of social media and the advent of the web 2.0, the concept of native advertising has become somewhat more shady than before. Over 30% of British web users, for example, now use some form of ad-blocking software in which banners, auto-play videos and even sponsored links and content are blocked automatically from view. This limits monetising opportunities for media companies as well as advertising touch points for brands, and the financial implications are evident. With its ability to mimic editorial content, and often accompanied by dodgy ‘sponsor’ signage that avoids ad-blocking software, it is no wonder then that native advertising has taken to the web with gusto.
But for the average individual, mindlessly flicking through their Instagram feed, native ads are dangerously close to creative content. In fact, when Instagram first launched advertising, back in early 2015, they made specific requirements that images had to mimic the general vibe of Instagram in order to be featured. They did not want their users to notice the new intrusion of ads. And it’s not just Instagram. You’d be forgiven for thinking that cool shot of a J. Crew coat, the one that just ‘happens’ to be at the top of your Pinterest homepage, was a genuinely popular post. But, alas, they are all purely paid promotions. So what’s a consumer to do? From annoying pop-ups, through to celebrity product placements, and now on to sneaky promotions that masquerade as creative content, we seem doomed to unwanted advertisements whatever we do.
So, can we believe everything we see on social media? Of course not. The truth is you never have, and it looks like you never will.
Words: Skye Maree-Dixon
Images source: Barbara Kruger / Cildo Meireles / Instagram
Copy edited by: Elena Stanciu