The Blurred Lines Between Advertising and Social Media

When Ronald Reagan’s Chesterfield cigarette ads premiered, did we really believe that he smoked a pack a day? Probably not, because we knew it was an advertisement. When we see pictures of Kylie Jenner posing with her FitTea on Instagram, do we think that she drinks it every morning to maintain a healthy weight? Maybe.

The introduction of social media has blurred the lines of advertising and real life significantly. Before we had Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, we were able to recognize advertisements easily. Now, it’s difficult to determine if our favourite celebrity really does like Coco White Teeth Whiteners, or if they’re being paid to say they do.

Influencers on social media have thousands of people following their every move, so it makes sense that companies would want them to advertise for them. The problem is, a lot of influencers are not informing their followers that they are being paid to post. As a result, Ad Standards Canada has revised its rules regarding advertising with blogs, celebrities, and social media influencers. Bloggers are now required to include statements in their posts that acknowledge they are working with a company to advertise a product, and social media influencers will be required to include hashtags like #sponsored or #ad to ensure the public knows they are being paid to post.

After working in the marketing and communications industry for over 20 years, I am able to spot an ad on my social media feed easily. Unfortunately, a lot of other Canadians are not as media literate and are therefore feeling tricked after they have purchased a product discretely advertised on social media.

One of the main functions of marketing is increasing brand loyalty. Customers are unlikely to purchase a product or stay interested in a brand when they find out they have been lied to. Customers look for authenticity in the brands they follow, so acknowledging that a celebrity is being paid to promote your company is just better business. While famous celebrities might not actually use your product in their everyday lives, if your overall marketing strategy is strong enough, people will want to buy your product.

If you or your organization is considering social media advertising with an influencer, make sure your customers know they are being marketed to. Having a celebrity face is a great way to increase interest in your product, but honesty is key to maintaining customer loyalty.

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