Will APAC agencies follow suit and ask influencers to stop altering images?
The news last week that Ogilvy UK is to stop working with influencers who edit their faces or bodies in brand campaigns has sparked much debate in Europe. In the Asia Pacific region, where filters and editing apps have become deeply entrenched in some communities, The Drum asks industry leaders whether they predict this part of the world will follow suit.
The news from Ogilvy is the latest in a trend in the UK where influencers and celebrities are being called on by the public and regulators to be more transparent with their followers. The UK government itself has released plans for a Digitally Altered Body Image Bill, whereby influencers would have to disclose if they had used editing apps on their face or body. The regulation would fall under the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which is already clamping down on influencer transparency through its name-and-shame policy on ad transparency.
In APAC, some global brands are already taking a stand. Dove, a champion of ‘real beauty,’ launched a campaign in China this year asking people to stop using filters on their social media posts.
Prof Ang Peng Hwa, chairman, Advertising Standards Authority Singapore
The UK’s ASA is a global leader in self-regulatory advertising standards. The president of the International Council for Advertising Self-Regulation (ICAS) is the current head of the ASA UK and the head of the ICAS, the international body that promotes effective advertising self-regulation.
Here, we have an internationally-respected advertising agency stepping up to work alongside the regulators to stop untrustworthy advertising. This is in the true spirit of self-regulation in advertising.
I am not sure that we can say this will be a trend in APAC. Not all APAC markets have a self-regulatory regime of advertising regulation. But we certainly hope that this will be a trend. It is a positive development because when advertisements are trustworthy, they are good not just for consumers but for the industry as a whole too.
In general the influencer space, because it is somewhat new, will require regulations to catch up. The principle is that trustworthy advertising that is not altered is good not just for the consumer, but for the entire advertising market. In the influencer space, such trustworthiness will benefit brands as well as the influencers themselves. Influencers who ‘get it’ should also get on board.
Antoine Gross, general manager, South East Asia and India, impact.com
For many brands today, trust is inevitably key in building one’s credibility, and in South East Asia, brands have been doing so through influencers. In this region, influencer marketing has been on the rise. A report by Meta notes that around 482 million people in South East Asia now use social media as a top channel for brand discovery, consideration and evaluation. In another report by Statista, approximately 70% of the over 10,000 survey respondents in the Philippines had purchased an item because of an influencer’s recommendation. As more and more consumers distrust advertising and look toward online and social recommendations, influencers have thus been seen as a trusted source and channel for many marketers and brands.
Influencers are the epitome of authenticity and being genuine when it comes to sharing their opinions about a certain product, service or brand, which helps build a community of followers who value what they say. If they choose to break that trust by putting out edited and inauthentic content, it not only becomes a question of ethics, but also creates a ripple effect for brands that invest heavily in influencer marketing. Brands will lose credibility and trust as consumers would only engage with companies that have sincere and honest reputations.
Ultimately, trust is paramount for establishing a successful partnership between a brand and an influencer. While this is only applicable to the UK, an open declaration to only working with real and unedited influencers is a step in the right direction and proves to consumers that these companies have their interests at heart.
Manisha Kapoor, secretary general, Advertising Standards Council India
The ASCI believes that this is a welcome development from two points of view. From a consumer protection angle, transparency in depicting the effects of a product or product performance is important, so consumers are not misled as to the product or service. Many times, filters are also used to depict unrealistic and unattainable ideals of beauty or health that set harmful norms. As both misleading ads and harmful stereotypes compromise consumer interests, we believe that these issues will come under greater scrutiny from consumer interest groups as well as regulators in the time to come.
Catherine Harris, chief executive officer, TBWA\NZ
What needs to be looked at across all these markets is more than just transparency. Once an image has been retouched and filtered to create an idealized form of beauty by unrealistically distorting the human face and form, the damage has already been done. It doesn’t help as much as we might think to simply label it.
While regulating transparency can play a role, a lot of research shows labeling a retouched or filtered image has next to no impact on reducing the potentially damaging impact on our self-image and self-esteem. We believe in doing as much as we can to hero and celebrate authentic imagery – creating work, initiatives and policies that mean we celebrate more realistic depictions of the human form. That’s why we want everyone to own and start to feel more confident about how they look, hence the Bodyright initiative. It is not always easy, but reducing the volume of unethical retouching and filters in the world and empowering people to ask for no filtering of their own image will help.
We believe this should be – and is – a worldwide trend. With terms such as Snapchat dysmorphia being around for years, it is starting to feel like real change is coming. Consumers and brands want this, and agencies have an important role to play.
Beyond our work on Bodyright, we have a broad unethical retouching and unethical filters policy that has been refined over the past year. It was developed in consultation with creatives, photographers, influencers, retouchers, production partners and clients.
As agencies, we can’t say no to filters while tweaking waists and faces or smoothing skin, wrinkles, elbows and hair in our own ads. All our brand partners are supportive of our policy and know we won’t participate in any unethical retouching or filters on their behalf. If anyone wants to discuss how this works they can email the team at Bodyright.me or our team at TBWA\NZ. We give a lot of time every month to moving this mission forward and love answering questions, engaging in debate, hearing new ideas and supporting anyone who wants to get behind this work.
Additional reporting by Shawn Lim and Amit Bapna.