Excess versus responsibility: KOL marketing in France faces a reckoning
- 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.
Set up in late 2021, @payetoninfluence has gathered some 20,000 followers on Instagram. Its founders have been invited to discuss its proposals for injecting environmentally responsible messages into influencer discourse by France’s leading media outlets, and by the ARPP to consult on an environmental module for the Responsible Influence Certificate.
Industry players say that the polemic around Shauna Events and the questionable practices of some influencers has led to greater awareness amongst influencers, marketers and audiences of the issues — positive and negative — arising from influencer marketing that both the industry and wider society need to address.
Deloche says that Paye Ton Influence’s efforts to create a dialogue with influencers about the ecological and social impact of promoting excessive consumerism have been met with both enthusiasm and derision. Some influencers worry, legitimately, about losing parts of their audience if they begin discussing environmental or societal issues out of the blue.
But as awareness grows, pressure from audiences for influencers to take a stand is growing, and more influencers are seeking ways to address critical issues authentically and sincerely.
“We are in contact with more and more long-term, lifestyle influencers who have promoted anything and everything in the past and who today are really asking themselves questions about the impact their influence has, and about the brands they promote,” comments Deloche.
“For us, it’s essential because the more influencers who speak out about these subjects, the more those who don’t make an effort are going to feel marginalized and potentially lose their relevance to the audience, to the community and to the brands.”
Have no doubt: pressure on French brands, agencies and influencers to clean up their acts is mounting. The question remains, however, as to what extent the responsible influence movement in France will be adopted by other markets?
Kolsquare, a data-driven Influencer Marketing platform, helps brands to optimize each step of their Influencer Marketing campaign with help of data and Machine Learning. The solution facilitates the identification of the right profiles for a campaign amongst a catalog of over 3 million KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders), and enables the measurement and performance analysis of each campaign. Kolsquare is a team of thirty experts who accompany you throughout the year in the implementation of your influencer strategies, to help you build effective campaigns and increase your knowledge of the Influencer sector through studies, barometers and enriching insights.