Amid ongoing concerns around the value of influencer marketing and way such ads are signposted, Johnson & Johnson has found itself in the eye of a social media storm.
Over the weekend, a paid-for Instagram post from Scarlett Dixon (aka Scarlett London) promoting Listerine went viral on Twitter for all the wrong reasons.
Now, the influencer says she's received "death threats" over the sponsored image.
Dixon's post was first picked up by Twitter users on Friday, following a tweet that bemoaned its staged nature. The promotion was part of a campaign to promote the Johnson & Johnson-owned brand whitening mouthwash.
Fuck off this is anybody's normal morning.
Instagram is a ridiculous lie factory made to make us all feel inadequate. pic.twitter.com/arV7uCusiJ
— Nathan (@hintofsarcasm) August 31, 2018
"My feed isn’t a place of reality," countered Dixon, adding: "Sometimes my photos are whimsical and OTT and a little too pink, but I’m not presenting this as an ‘idealistic’ version of life that young girls should aspire to. Those who follow me will know my reality."
The picture showed the Instagrammer sitting on a bed flanked by heart-shaped balloons and draped in a blanket with a picture of herself on it.
Plates of strawberries, and (rather curiously) tortilla wraps posing as 'pancakes' also featured.
A bottle of Listerine was perched on the bedside table and the lengthy caption included Listenrine's campaign hashtag #BringOutTheBold.
One tweet, which has since had around 20,000 retweets, decried the fact that this scene represented anyone's "normal morning", adding: "Instagram is a ridiculous lie factory made to make us all feel inadequate".
Thousands of people have chipped in on Twitter to criticise the seemingly faux aspirational aesthetic of the ad, questioning what it has to do with mouthwash.
"This is a paid partnership with Listerine" is spectacular, somehow social media influencers managed to develop a form of advertising that is less authentic and human than the most sanitized 90s shampoo commercial https://t.co/r84PBUwz93 — Tom Gara (@tomgara) September 1, 2018
All the things any woman needs for a good night’s sleep:
- a bed surrounded by heart shaped balloons,
- a throw with a massive picture of me on it,
- a bottle of listerine https://t.co/s5CF8rmMsR
— Dr Fern Riddell (@FernRiddell) September 1, 2018
Some even suggested the campaign, which involves other influencers too, was a parody set up by Listerine.
The Drum has reached out to Johnson & Johnson, but it has yet to comment on the controversy.
However, Dixon herself has posted messages on both Twitter and Instagram slamming the negative response and saying she's received threats over the weekend.
— Scarlett London (@Scarlett_London) September 2, 2018
"In the last 48 hours, grown men and women, MP’s [sic], women’s equality representatives, journalists, actresses and broadcasters have discovered my Instagram feed and decided to pick it apart [sic] online, in front of thousands," she wrote.
"Each time I refresh my page, hundreds of new nasty messages pour onto my Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, some of which have contained malicious death threats."
Dixon added that she started blogging to raise awareness of a digestive condition she has.
"My Instagram has been an outlet to show you can be positive and have fun with life, despite this condition. I personally don’t think my content is harmful to young girls but I do agree Instagram can present a false expectation for people to live up to.
"And I am wholeheartedly sorry if I’ve ever made anyone feel inadequate through my content. My life mission is quite the opposite," she continued.
Putting influencer marketing under the microscope
The furore comes amid both marketers and consumers affording greater scrutiny to influencer campaigns.
In June, fellow FMCG brand Unilever called for “urgent action” to tackle influencer ad and follower fraud.
The brand immediately committed to stop working with any influencer found to be buying followers, and has urged platforms like Instagram to help clean up the space too.
At the time, several other brands like Samsung, L’Oreal, eBay and Diageo also admitted it had been a problem they too were quietly trying to solve.
The way such ads are signposted online has also come under the microscope over the past year.
In the UK, almost half (49%) of people say they would like to see regulators enforce stricter rules for sponsored influencer posts while a further 47% are 'fatigued' by repetitive influencer posts on platforms like Instagram.
Earlier this year, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) launched its own review into whether commonly-used indicators like #spon, #ad and #sp are clear enough.
Guy Parker, the ASA's chief executive has previously said that people shouldn’t "have to play the detective to work out if they’re being advertised to".
The government's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has too launched its own investigation into influencer marketing, specifically looking at the problem of social stars failing to disclose brand deals.