In the wake of the current pandemic, influencers haven’t fared all too well. We’ve seen ill-judged posts from influencers retreating to their holiday homes against government advice, and some even using face masks to pose in something called a “quarankini” (which is apparently a face mask worn as a bikini).
However, thankfully, there are some influencers who are using their platform to call out poor behaviour – in particular, that of brands. Last week, prominent health expert, Dr Chris George, leaked a message he’d received from a brand who wanted to partner with him to promote an “Immune Defence product”.
The (unnamed) brand said that, “Given the COVID-19 situation, our Immune Defence product is in high demand and poses as a great opportunity for you to promote something your audience needs right now”.
Dr Chris George, however, saw things rather differently. Posting a redacted screenshot of the message, he said, “It makes me angry to see that there are people out there looking to capitalise on our current GLOBAL PANDEMIC. Selling products that at best don’t work for financial gain is pretty low. We need to be working together and not manipulating fear into profit.”
Addressing the brand directly, he said “To the well known company that approached me please rethink things. Use your time and resources to help spread accurate information and help keep our communities safe. Leave the medicine to the health care professionals and help supply us with frontline products that are much needed”.
This is a real wake-up call to brands seeking to partner with influencers on health-related products, or more generally on marketing activities during the pandemic. Many influencers are becoming increasingly aware of the need to post accurate and considered content that supports government advice. This means that approaches by brands, such as the one above, seeking to capitalise on the current crisis may receive short shrift from some influencers. In this case, the brand name was redacted, but other brands might not be so fortunate.
As well as consumers holding brands and influencers to account, the ASA has announced it will be taking an “uncompromising stance on companies or individuals seeking to use advertising to exploit the circumstances for their own gain”. This is something influencers and brands alike will no doubt be alive to.
However, despite the few rogue figures, influencers can be a fantastic way of communicating information about the pandemic, especially to audiences who may not engage with the mainstream media. Finland has recognised this and even listed influencers as “critical operators” (similar to our key workers). Whether or not we need to go this far is another matter. However, it’s clear that responsible communications from influencers can help to spread important messaging about the pandemic to the wider population.
Finland has enlisted social influencers in the government’s efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that they are just as useful as mainstream media in a crisis when it needs to inform the population fast, clearly and accurately.