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Essays

Overall Winner: Emma Evers, Leinster Senior College, Newbridge, Co. Kildare.

 

“An rud a chíonn an leanbh is é a níonn an leanbh” - “What the child sees the child does”

Teenagers like to challenge the fact that they are vulnerable children. Their opinions have not fully developed yet, even though some of my peers might disagree with this. There is not a day when a teenager is not being “hypnotized” by their phone - ask their parents!  At this particular age, it is very easy to be swayed in a certain direction by an influencer. They will only let you see what they want you to see, which is not always what you need to see.

An “influencer” is a person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on social media.

As I do not have a social media presence, I had to research this issue thoroughly. I quickly realised that this shrewd tactic is gradually becoming quite impactful not only on young minds but also on many sales figures worldwide.

I found out that social media stars have taken a dislike to the term “influencer”, believing that it misrepresents their role. Some feel that they should be referred to as “digital-first talent” agents.  I find this alternative term, which only applies to influencers who post exclusively “sponsored content”, quite confusing, and I am sure I am not the only one who does. I noticed that sponsored content is considered more “authentic” than an advertisement, but I believe that, ultimately, whenever a person receives money from an interested party in order to endorse their product, this should be non-ambiguously qualified as advertisement.

Of course, during my research I came across the “Greatest Party that Never Happened”. I was mesmerised to read about the Fyre Festival, which could be seen as the perfect example of an influencer-marketing pitfall. In my opinion, this supposed “extravaganza of the decade” illustrates clearly how people – and not just young ones - can be manipulated into parting with large sums of money while trying to emulate the rich and glamorous. The organisers spent obscene sums of money on the campaign alone, having the world’s most renowned models posting pictures of themselves in the gorgeous landscape of a tropical island in the Bahamas. I was in disbelief reading about how none of the celebrities disclosed that their posts about the event were, in fact, advertisements.

Each ticket retailed at thousands of dollars and the event sold out within 48 hours. Judging by these promotional clips, the guests would be flown to their destination in a private jet, stay in luxury accommodation and dine on gourmet cuisine. Instead, they got an old, rebranded airplane, tents and a soggy cheese sandwich. The organizer, Billy McFarland, went to prison for fraud. Bella Hadid, one of the supermodels, ate humble pie (still better than a soggy cheese sandwich) on social media, saying that she had “trusted” the event would be “amazing and memorable”. Kendall Jenner deleted her post.  One would think that the $250,000 she received to promote the event would have insured a bit of loyalty - I guess it has not.

To my mind, the Fyre Festival proved how successful influencer marketing is. Without those supermodels, the festival would not have, under any circumstances, attracted that much publicity. When the event turned into a disaster, none of the influencers involved faced any consequences, which raised many questions in my mind about the ethics of this field of marketing. To me, this was the ultimate example of how much money gullible people can lose due to false advertising. 

I know I am not alone in thinking that influencers cannot be trusted due to their failure to disclose their financial links with brands. Exact figures are quite difficult to find, but research for BBC Radio 4 reveals that 82% of the people they surveyed stated that it’s frequently unclear when an influencer is paid to promote a product.

Influencer marketing has become so popular that the influencers themselves have brands of their own. What was once regarded as one of the most successful forms of advertising is now also the most corrupted one, in my view. I believe strongly that an influencer should make it clear that they are advertising a product so their followers can make an informed decision.

I consider that the worst consequence of this form of advertising is that the minds of the public have become so sceptical in recent years. As a result, when a genuine voice is heard, the public are convinced that he or she is not speaking for themselves but through the words of a moneymaking enterprise. The best example I can think of is Greta Thunberg’s strong and progressive messages being undermined by journalists who claim that she is speaking on behalf of interested entities. Cynicism causes people to lose trust in everything.

To end on a more positive note, I realised that the influencer marketing is regulated very well in Ireland. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK have also had some success in ensuring that influencers follow the rules. However, this comes five years after the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland” (ASAI) first introduced #ad.

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, Lord Henry deliberately manipulates the eponymous character and the consequences are tragic, “because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions.” There is no better cautionary advice to both influencers and the influenced.

 

Runner-up: Niamh Coyle, Royal and Prior Comprehensive School, Raphoe, Co. Donegal

 

Ever since goods and services have been bought and sold, influencers have existed. However, more and more, social media influencers are becoming a huge part of daily life in western society. An influencer, in this context, is “a person who is paid by a company to show and describe its products and services on social media, encouraging other people to buy them”, according to the Cambridge Dictionary. What was once a method of staying in contact with friends and loved ones has turned into a method of extremely effective marketing for businesses. Social media provides companies with both direct access to the public and to information about their likes and dislikes, and buying habits. This enables them to market their products directly to their target markets, increasing their profits. Influencers work by promoting a certain product to their dedicated audiences, on whichever platform they choose to use, including YouTube and Instagram.

The concept of using influencers to advertise products works because they are trusted in today’s society. They have built up a persona which is relatable; therefore, everyday people will trust them because they feel like a next-door neighbour.

When an influencer is promoting a product, currently, in Ireland, “It must be clear these posts are marketing communications”, according to the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI). The ASAI recommends the use of the hashtags #AD or #SP. As these requirements are readily available online, when an influencer chooses not to comply, it causes their followers to doubt their credibility because they are not following the guidelines which may mean that they are willing to lie to their followers and break their trust. The internet is supposed to be a place where anyone can share their views and opinions on anything, so it shouldn’t be regulated unless it is causing harm to another person.

At the same time though, it is easy to understand why an influencer would choose not to advertise the fact that they are being paid to promote a product. If the audience knows that the influencer is being paid to say good things about a product, then there is a lower chance that what they are saying is true. This could result in a drop in the number of their followers, and could lead to public shaming. Influencers may also not reveal their links with brands because they may feel that they don’t have to. If an influencer had to, for example, stay in a hotel for a few days to be able to share their opinions on it, they would have had to leave their children and leave their day jobs, and it would disrupt their daily lives. It would seem like work to them as it would require effort, so they would not see the need to disclose that they actually got the hotel room for free, because it was a job for them.

After seeing the statistic that “almost three-quarters of influencers surveyed are not revealing them links with brands, which can lead to issues with consumer trust”, and other similar figures, a common dilemma is should we trust an influencer’s recommendations? Well, as we know that not all influencers reveal that they are linked with brands and companies, then all information they give should be taken with a metaphorical ‘pinch of salt’. It is the same risk as buying any product, whoever is selling, he or she is going to promote its good features and ignore the bad. Also, buying goods or services based on one recommendation goes against the guidelines for being a wise consumer, either online or face to face. When purchasing anything, you should research both the price and goods or service provider thoroughly before you hand over any payment. If you choose to buy a product or service simply because an influencer is promoting it, then you are being irresponsible, and if it does not live up to your expectations, you have to accept some of the responsibility. As the saying goes, “Caveat emptor”.

The information about influencer’s recommendations is widely available, as in 2018, 89% of households had internet at home according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), and libraries offer free internet access, so virtually everybody can conduct more research on products that they see an influencer promote. That leads onto another question though, is the act of using influencers to advertise goods and services moral and ethical? Something is considered moral if it “would be accepted by anyone who meets certain intellectual and volitional conditions, almost always including the condition of being rational” according to the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. If you consider that the influencer is being paid to say these things about the product, and may be receiving a form of payment for it and that they know that if they divulge that information that they will possibly lose money, then it is logical and rational for them to not inform their viewers that they are being paid, and everyone who meets certain intellectual and volitional conditions would agree to this. This means it is moral. On the flipside however, it is deceiving the public which is immoral.

By not disclosing all of the information surrounding the media communications, they are being mendacious. In fact, a recent study has proven that in recent years, people are becoming less and less trusting of social media influencers. In 2017, 70% of the public trusted influencers, but more recently, Universal McCann had this figure at only 4%. This huge drop in trust proves that because influencers benefit from partnering with brands, people do not believe what they say.

Overall, the fact that three-quarters of influencers surveyed are not revealing their links with brands, but are still using them to promote their products, shows that it is still a very effective way of marketing goods and services.

 

Runner-up: Paul Egan, Mean Scoil Nua an Leith Triuigh, Tralee, Co. Kerry.

Social media influencers play a massive role in shaping young  minds both consciously and subconsciously. What they post and  promote often become trends, companies can experience a gain in  sales and the people can become globally recognised, but at what  cost?  Social media sites such as Instagram have caused ‘generation  Z’ to go into a frenzy controlled by filters and special effects which  are led by the work of social media influencers. If you haven't  positioned your head slightly to the left and clinked glasses in an  over and back motion on repeat, did you even drink said drink? or if  you haven't spent longer taking photos of that dish in the fancy  restaurant than eating it, was it even worth having? Or is that child  even cute if they haven't been photographed with that animal filter  over their face a hundred times? These all seem like ridiculous  questions but if we take a step back and get down to the roots of our  own social media accounts, most of us will find ourselves plunging  deeper and deeper into a world controlled by our accounts. So how  do we know we can trust an influencers recommendation?               

The simple answer is we can’t, although there are numerous  cases of how false an influencer’s account can be. For instance,  social media influencer and vlogger Natalia Taylor faked an  Indonseian holiday at her local Ikea, fooling her 300k Instagram  followers. Taylor later revealed that the photos were in fact taken in  the Swedish franchise’s tropic model rooms on a YouTube video a  week later. The video has since amassed over a whopping 1.5  million views. In the video Taylor told viewers that Bali ​“is the  perfect place to totally fake an influencer vacation and totally lie to all of  my followers”. ​She continued by saying​ “The point of this video is to  see if you really can fake it until you make it,”​ she said.  This may be a  simple joke to some but to others it may well have been the push  they needed to spend a vast portion of their hard earned savings to  get that ‘luxury Balinese Airbnb’ Natalia claimed to be staying in  just to be let down by the harsh reality of the truth, and this is just  one of many examples where an influencer faked experiences and  lied to their fans and their most loyal of followers.           

 While it can be difficult to pick an influencer out of a crowd on  the streets, it is not so difficult to find an influencer online, but  what is their purpose?   The Oxford dictionary definition of an  influencer is “​a person with the ability to influence potential buyers  of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on  social media.”  ​Keeping this in mind, people do not become social  media influencers out of the kindness of their hearts but can  actually be quite the profitable business. “Business Insider” claims  that the influencer market can be worth anything up to $15 billion  USD and has very few rules attached.  So it being such a profitable  business tool as a whole, how much money does each influencer  make and how do they make it? The most common form of  cooperation between brands and Instagram influencers is through  sponsored posts​. Of course, to be effective a sponsored post has to  sit well with the influencer’s audience and appear like a genuine  recommendation from the influencer. The ideal sponsored post  shows how the brand’s product fits perfectly into the influencer's  life, and how it can just as easily fit into the lives of his or her  followers.       

It is not unheard of for those with more than 100,000 followers  to earn €700-€900 per photo.  Those with 500,000 followers can command €2,000 to €3,000 per sponsored photo posted. Of course,  there are the superstars. Kim Kardashian can command anything  up to a huge €300,000 for a post across any of her social media  accounts. With over 87 million Instagram followers it can be self  explanatory as to why a brand would want to be endorsed by  someone with such a huge following. Although it is not just Kim  Kardashian that can command such a high price, a typical post by  any of the Kardashian / Jenners family usually earns at least  €200,000. It doesn't just end there however as the highest paid  stars have an annual earning as follows: Cristiano Ronaldo: €47.8  million, Lionel Messi: €23.3 million, Kendell Jenner: €15.9 million  and so on.      Although,with the rise of Instagram’s impact on the marketplace,  stricter rules had to be put in place. A paid advertisement on  Instagram is required to have a ‘#AD’ in the biography section of  the post.   

I firmly believe that these rules are not nearly enough to protect the  viewers from being swallowed by a ravenous swarm of industries  masked by the kind entrusting faces of your favourite influencer’s  accounts.