Vlogger volume from advertisers to rise despite concerns over ‘grey areas’

Domino’s, Samsung, L’oreal and Pernod Ricard are among a raft of brands cautiously betting more marketing spend on vloggers despite growing concerns that the commercialisation of content is blurring the lines between advertising and editorial.

Words by Seb Joseph and Natalie Mortimer

The rise and rise of the vlogger has been one the standout marketing stories so far this year. Their transformation into the biggest social media influencers today has been tempered of late by the UK advertising watchdog’s crackdown on brands not clearly labelling their work with these stars as an ad.

Mondelez’s Oreo brand was the first to be rapped for getting this dynamic wrong, causing many marketers to sit up and ask for clearer rules. While the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) works to produce clear practical guidance, some advertisers are forging their own responsible ties with vloggers in order to mine their influence over their followers.

“[Vloggers] are ludicrously important [to the L’Oreal brand], said the cosmetics chief marketing officer for the UK and Ireland Hugh Pile. The business has a high profile deal with one of the biggest YouTube personalities Michelle Phanand (see below) and is turning to self-styled beauty vloggers to find a new make-up designer.

“It’s wonderful to market when you see it having such an effect immediately and that’s why we have such respect and great partnerships with the vloggers and bloggers because they reach millions of consumers in truly credible ways,” said Pile. “That's so massively important and we think we are going to invest behind that for many years to come.”

It is a thought shared by Samsung and Domino’s. However, both admit they still need to figure out how and why they use vloggers though stressed their importance as a cost-effective, credible way to improve product placement. Despite this, a recent report shows vloggers may not be the silver bullet content-focused marketers had hoped.

Only 7 per cent of internet users have discovered a product via a vlog, the lowest of all ways researched by GlobalWebIndex. This rises to 12 per cent of the 42 per cent of online users that said they had watched a post in the previous month. Conversely, more than 40 per cent had unearthed new brands through content in newspapers, magazine sites or from a friend’s recommendation, according to the survey of almost 42,000 people in 32 countries.

Russell Taylor, Samsung UK’s vice president of corporate marketing, said the business is yet to carve out a clear role for vloggers but added that they “nicely balance” the relationship it has with influential journalists. The South Korean company has worked with vloggers in the past but this year sees them given its smartphones for the first time.

“The numbers of fans and eyeballs that we saw some of the early content from these guys was unprecedented and in a very short period of time gave us quite a good reach, said Taylor.

“Our marketing is moving away from talking about just about how good the technology in our products are to people. Rather than waiting for our product to be discovered, we’re getting in the hands of people who can talk credibily about our products and can do the job for us.”

It appears that consumers, despite industry fears to the contrary, are ok with the likes of Samsung incorporating their products into editorial content. The ASA has not seen a big increase in the number of complaints about unclear vlogger content though it is undoubtedly a live issue. However, it is not the volume, nor in this case the relative scarcity, of complaints about advertising in vlogs that has prompted the industry watchdog to take action.

A spokesman for the ASA said: “As part of our five-year strategy we’re focussed on being more proactive in identifying and tackling potential problems as well as raising awareness and understanding of the rules to help advertisers get their ads right.”

The lack of clear guidelines combined with the trepidation from marketers has made advertising on vlogs akin to the “wild west”, claimed Simon Wallis, sales and marketing director at Domino’s UK and Ireland. “When the environment is like that then brands have a responsibility to function professionally. You don’t want to bite off the hand that’s feeding you,” he added.

The pizza seller recently worked with the latest iteration of vloggers - Vine makers on Twitter with a sizeable following. Like all its past digital endeavours, Domino’s has jumped into the world of social media influencers without a defined end goal, admitted Wallis, though this is because it wants to get its brand out in as many channels as possible and the strategy can come after.

Domino’s approach crystallises the calculated bets marketers are placing to see whether vloggers can have an impact further down the purchase funnel. Vlogging is still clearly associated with entertainment and awareness building rather than for shifting product. Sales are the end game and to cross that finish line brands are mindful that they need to build relevancy in a constantly shifting media landscape.

The search for relevancy is what turned Pernod Ricard’s Malibu brand to vloggers last year. In a need of something to spark interest in a crowded alcohol space, the coconut-flavoured rum generated more than 50 videos in partnership with vloggers last year as part of its Malibu’s ‘Best Summer Ever Project’ 2014”. Another series, developed by AnalogFolk, with more vloggers is due this summer.

“In order for Malibu to stay relevant we realised that to working with the peers of our audience was key,” said Sina Neubrandt, global marketing manager of content, at Pernod Ricard.

“Our organic reach was above industry average. The 10 year watch time our channel received over the summer period demonstrates just how engaged our audience was. With that kind of organic response there naturally is a cost effectiveness,” she continued.

“We needed to work with vloggers and a director who knew how to shoot content in a credible vlogger way. This meant that it was about working with them, and not the typical approach of getting a cast to just do what a brand wants.”

There is currently a lot of work going on behind the scenes to produce clear, practical guidance for vloggers. As part of that, the ASA is examining the grey areas such as when editorial content becomes advertising for the purposes of the Ad Code. The regulator has already listened to many vloggers and bloggers, almost all of them, it claimed, supportive of its work, including holding live Twitter chats and dealing with queries from vloggers and their agencies. Further talks are planned to ensure the new rules work for them.

“But, importantly, the outcome of our work will also be pertinent to those companies/PR agencies who are looking to enter into commercial relationships with vloggers and bloggers,” said the ASA’s spokesman. “There is an onus on them to make sure that a vlogger/blogger they partner with is up front and clear when they are advertising.”

That’s why regulators are speaking to trade bodies like the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and the Public Relations Consultants Association to ensure it has the biggest platform possible to raise awareness.

Like it or loathe it, the success of vloggers such as Zoella and Caspar Lee is undeniable. These stars are becoming celebrities in their own right but what makes them more appealing than any actor or singer is the “real”, “relatable” link they have with fans.

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