Excess versus responsibility: Responsible influence is on the way
- France is the clear market leader on questions of responsible influence.
- Laws to define and regulate the influencer marketing industry are coming, it’s just a matter of time.
- Change is afoot; brands and audiences are deserting influencers and agencies seen to be doing the wrong thing.
- Education and transparency are key to generating positive change amongst influencers, audiences and brands.
Alongside its exponential growth, influencer marketing in France in 2022 has been characterized by two competing forces. On one side is growing efforts to inject more responsibility, transparency and authenticity into the market.
On the other, a prominent documentary that shed light on the industry’s worst excesses, from the questionable management practices of some influencer agencies, to promotion of drop-shipped products and Dubai’s community of tax-dodging influencers.
Caught in the eye of the storm was Shauna Events, the influencer talent agency led by charismatic, self-made woman Magali Berdah. Described as “the influencers’ pope” and boasting 1.4 million followers on Instagram, Berdah harnessed a large roster of reality television stars to relentlessly promote products to their social media audiences.
Berdah’s meteoric success enabled her to gain access to the upper echelons of France’s political class; she spent several months earlier this year interviewing candidates in the leadup to the presidential election.
All that has come crashing down, with Berdah accused of promoting counterfeit and drop-shipped products, embroiled in an ugly, high-profile dispute with rapper Booba (whom she has accused of harassment), and turnover at Shauna Events reportedly in freefall.
The final nail in the coffin seemed to come last week with the revelation that Shauna Events’ major shareholder, French television production and distribution behemoth Banijay, had cut ties with the company, reportedly citing a need to develop “influence that is more ethical, around candidates from shows which are less sulfurous”.
Just a few bad apples?
“[The documentary] raised the curtain on a certain type of influencer marketing that is unique to reality TV but which is just a small part of the industry,” comments Sirine Barritaud, social media and influence manager at Gardeners Agency.
“The vast majority of influencers are people who work hard to do the right thing. Many of them say reality TV influencers harm the industry because there are so many collaborations that are just billboards for questionable brands. That they really don’t care about their audience, they are just there to make money. It’s an image which does not reflect the real nature of influencer marketing.”
France is well ahead of other countries in its efforts to clean up the worst excesses of influencer marketing; it is perhaps the only country to have laws that require minors appearing in their parents’ sponsored social media posts to be remunerated under contract, for example.
The other leading industry innovation is the Responsible Influence Certificate developed by the ARPP, France’s professional advertising authority, and designed to educate influencers on their obligations around advertising transparency. In the 18 months since its creation, the certificate has been completed by some 150 KOLs, with more and more brands making it mandatory for KOL partnerships and incorporating the certification into KOL search criteria.
According to the ARPP, the rate of sponsored influencer posts that are labeled as such, either partially or fully, has risen from 73% in 2021 to 83% in 2022. Among KOLs who have completed the certificate, the rate has risen from 78% to 91% of posts.
“There have been improvements, there are new laws and there is a framework but it is not yet sufficiently defined,” comments Barritaud. “We see influencers who hide collaborations. Not all mothers [who use their children in paid posts] have contracts for them, there is a lack of supervision. Next year for me it will be simple: for all parents, we will go through [an agency] to establish contracts for the children. It means added costs but at least we are acting within the law and we are protected.”
Calls for regulation
Underlying the spectacular fall from grace of Shauna Events are growing calls from all quarters — including Berdah herself — for laws to define and regulate the influencer marketing industry.
The government has said it will consult with industry players to define new, stricter regulations for influencer marketing. A law proposed by the Greens calls for a legal framework that defines the professions of influencer and influencer agent, new obligations for influencers regarding promotional content, and for social networks to create systems for reporting prohibited, aggressive or misleading influencer content.
“The profession of influencer does not exist in regard of the law so everybody does whatever they want on the social networks, and the brands take advantage of it,” argues Amélie Deloche, co-founder of Paye Ton Influence (Pay Your Influence), a collective of young communications specialists which aims to raise awareness among influencers of the ecological impact of their activities, and to encourage them to use their influence to generate change amongst their audiences.
“Advertising through influencers is completely unregulated compared to other types of advertising. One of the crucial issues is to regulate the sector. Today, influencers are professionals, they are people who run companies. They are no longer just random people playing around with Stories at home,” comments Deloche.