Social Media Mental Health Ogilvy

Industry weighs in on Ogilvy’s influencer editing policy


By Hannah Bowler, Senior reporter

April 11, 2022 | 8 min read

Last week Ogilvy UK said it would stop working with influencers who edit their faces or bodies in brand campaigns. But there were mixed reviews to the move – here’s a snapshot of responses.

Industry reacts to Ogilvy's influencer editing policy

Is Ogilvy’s influencer editing policy a good idea? / Pexels

For many, Ogilvy should be widely praised for taking action against social media’s “detrimental” impact on mental health, with plenty of industry commentators seeing the policy as an important step in reversing social media harms.

It was Ogilvy’s hope that other agencies would follow suit and enact similar policies and, in conversations with The Drum, a few influencer agencies have already committed to exploring the topic with clients.

However, some industry execs raised concerns a ban wouldn’t get to the root cause of why influencers edit their images, and called for an educational approach to fixing social media’s body image harms. Others questioned its effectiveness if traditional marketing doesn’t abide by the same rules, and a few saw it as “penalizing influencers.”

Oliver Lewis, chief executive officer, The Fifth: “As a board member of the Influencer Marketing Trade Body (IMTB), we applaud Ogilvy on this move and are fully supportive of its commitment to such an important issue. Influencer marketing is a booming channel, in part because it has valued authenticity and community above all else. As a result, it is best placed to lead and influence broader societal change beyond advertising too.

“Meaningful change takes time. Until such a time as accountability and social responsibility are shared equally between talent, agencies and brands, it’s moves like this from leaders in the market that create valuable conversation. This will in turn ignite the change we all want to see. However, it is then incumbent on those with shared ambitions for the space to follow suit, including platforms, as this can’t be solved by one player; it needs to be a sweeping change.

“Moving forward, we hope to engage with Titus and the wider IMTB board as this is rolled out to see what we can learn from their implementation. We too will consult with our clients and our talent to understand their concerns before we plan our next move.”

Christina Miller, UK head of social, VMLY&R: “I can’t help but think that influencers are only a product of the industry they serve. They have been brought up to believe that they need to alter their appearance to attract an audience, catch the eye of brands and ultimately get paid. The issue at hand is much deeper, and there is much work to be done by the companies, industries and brands that still set the expectations for these picture-perfect looks to change that.

“So, before penalizing influencers and telling them beauty standards are different, we need to ensure they truly are across the board. For example, we need to ask if brands are still using altered images or touched-up models across other marketing touchpoints.

“Undeniably, consumers today seek more authentic experiences on social media and beyond. And the brands, agencies and influencers that can deliver will see the benefits.

“The UK’s Digitally Altered Body Image Bill is hot on everyone’s minds. And I believe it can be an effective solution. It will allow freedom of expression through alteration but will require transparency – which likely will help combat mental health issues and enable influencers, and the industries they serve, to make the changes needed beyond just the final photos.”

Scott Guthrie, leader, IMTB: “Protecting the young and the vulnerable is of paramount importance to the Influencer Marketing Trade Body. We wrote earlier in the year to Dr Luke Evans MP offering our support and seeking the opportunity to participate in helping to shape the parameters of his Digitally Altered Body Image Bill.

“We agree with the sentiment of Ogilvy’s bold and positive announcement. Our industry is built upon the central tenet of authenticity.

“As a professional body, of which Ogilvy is a valued founding member, we’re in the process of consulting with all members about the practicalities of the undertaking. For instance, should virtual influencers be considered within the scope? If so, should these synthetic humans be called upon to let consumers know they aren’t real humans? And at what point does removing red-eye or a minor skin blemish become image manipulation?”

Lindsey Gamble, associate director of influencer innovation, Mavrck: “There’s no denying the negative impact that social media can have on people, especially on youth. Influencers and their perfectly-curated feeds definitely share some of the blame due to the power that they have. But taking a black and white approach in banning influencers who alter their bodies in their photos doesn’t feel like the right move for something that is as nuanced as this.

“This approach might make an impact in eliminating the agency and its clients from running campaigns with these types of influencers, but it doesn’t get to the root of why people edit their bodies in photos. If something like this is going to be implemented, it also should be implemented across other relevant areas such as professional models. Magazines have a long history of editing the models that appear on their covers or even models who appear in brand photoshoots.

“If there’s more education on how social media isn’t always a reflection of real life, then people may be able to better understand that everything they see shouldn’t be interpreted as true. On a similar note, there should also be a lot more discussion on why people may feel the need to edit their photos and come off as perfect.”

Grace Burton, omni-channel content coordinator, Lohmann and Rauscher: “I fully support this motion. Social media can have a lasting impact on how we view ourselves and can be detrimental to mental health. Let’s reverse this together and become #Unfiltered. As a grown woman I compare myself to filtered images and become upset, so I can only imagine how being younger and more impressionable can quickly spiral.

“It’s a wider conversation. But I still think it’s an important step.”

Gemma Dowler, art director, Creative Team: “In many ways, I’m here for this, and in many ways, I’m really not. The same institutions who made us feel inadequate are now saying they won’t employ the women who have discovered a way to present a visual of the perfection they’ve been sold.

“Ogilvy won’t work with anyone it has decided has overstepped its imposed editing line, but other brands won’t work with women because they’re not ‘perfect’ enough. Women are constantly stuck between this rock and a hard place. Beauty filters are a product of decades and decades of the advertising world telling women how they should look. Now taking the high ground on saving women from themselves feels a bit rich. Maybe just choose your talent based on their skill rather than their looks?”

Madonna Badger, founder and chief creative officer, the Badger Agency: “The harm created by unrealistic images of women on social media is something we’re only now beginning to truly understand. We have a responsibility as creators and marketers to partner with those who reflect the change we want to see in the world.

“While we still have a long way to go, I appreciate efforts by our industry to evolve. The messages we create, the partners we choose to work with and the teams we hire all have an impact on how society, and especially younger generations, view women. Let’s use our power for good.

“Where does it go from here? Inclusion and intersectionality are certainly top of mind. Each of us must continue to push forward to not only respect all women, but to amplify their diverse and authentic voices across all of the work that we do.”

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