There’s been recent outcry over a collaboration between Johnson&Johnson and Instagram influencer Scarlett Dixon. A Listerine placement ad which seemed, in short, excessive.
The instagram post showed Scarlett sitting on a bed surrounded by heart shaped balloons and draped in a blanket. An abundance of strawberries and ‘pancakes’ (in actual fact they were tortilla wraps) were placed beside her - the Listerine in question was on the bedside table. The whole post was seen as a perfect example of how artificial the world of influencer marketing has become.
My opinion on the matter is relatively contrarian. On the one hand, I understand the anger and frustration from people who accuse Scarlett of selling something entirely unrealistic. The picture borders on parody with the abundance of balloons and the extravagant breakfast - all things which contrast the “normal” person’s day. It’s entirely understandable why someone would call Instagram a lie factory after seeing this post.
On the other hand, I’d argue that this was less an issue with this specific collaboration or even the influencer themself. But rather indicative of the overall direction that influencer campaigns on Instagram are heading.
Instagram and influencer marketing on its platform has always been about the aspirational. I’m often asked for the difference between Instagram and Snapchat and it’s simple to define. Snapchat is who you are and Instagram is who you want others to think you are. We’re naturally inclined to want people to think the best of us, living a perfect life and jet setting across the globe. This naturally translates to the type of influencer marketing that fills Instagram. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these particular types of posts, influencer marketing on Instagram has always had some type of facade to it. You surely don’t think that these fitness models really complete a challenging workout with a full face of makeup do you?
We created this mess.
The only thing Scarlett is somewhat at fault for is pandering to that aspirational level a little too much. I don't know the details of the deal but I personally am baffled that Listerine allowed this to go live.
I think there are going to be two main repercussions for this.
It should serve as a message for less handholding from brands and agencies. Recently there’s been a lot of news about fake followers and brands have been playing a much larger role in vetting influencers prior to working with them. This is a valuable process but what this debacle shows is when it comes to the actual content, there is a level of control that brands need to give to the influencers in order to maintain their air of authenticity and not alienate their original followers.
For influencers, I think this situation is ideal. It shows that influencers need to retain their autonomy, have the freedom to create less polished content and keep their ‘in the moment’ vibe that attracted their followers in the first place. I’ve spoken to many an influencer who has remarked at the pressure they've gotten from brands to create something that looks polished and "on brand". When the pay is good, they find it difficult not to sacrifice their authenticity.
In a world of people who can easily spot a fake - as is the case with this Listerine campaign – brands have to realize that "on brand" takes secondary place to authenticity. There isn’t anyone at fault per se, instead the influencer industry is rewarded for showing this idea of perfection and it comes in the form of even more dollars. So losing the organic nature of influencer advertising is just the apex of a problem that’s been present since the beginning.
Timothy Armoo is the CEO of FanBytes.