Influencers are social media users with a sizable following who partner with companies to market products which may be of interest to their followers, whilst the companies benefit by directly accessing the target audience of their products.
The influencers market the products or service by providing testimonials about the products or service to their followers whilst the company expects an increase in sales from this approach. In 2019, it is estimated that companies around the world spent $6.5 billion on influencer marketing. In 2021, that market is estimated to have grown to $13.8 billion.
To show how this market is growing at a very fast pace, brands are expected to invest $15 billion in influencer marketing in the US alone. This figure is more than the size of the market in 2021.
In Kenya, there is a growing number of personalities who are in the influencer marketing space making a tidy income, mostly on Instagram. Most of them are personalities who have amassed a big following from mainstream media (radio and TV).
One of the reasons for this fast growth is that brands find influencer marketing cost-effective. The pandemic has also pushed brands towards more influencer marketing after growth of social media users during this period.
But the informal nature of influencer marketing comes with its own dangers such as misrepresentation, miseducation, or deceptive marketing. Deceptive influencer marketing involving product misrepresentation, misinformation and non-disclosure of sponsored product is a source of a growing concern largely because consumers place trust in influencers making them vulnerable to deception.
This creates a dicey situation for regulators who have the task to protect consumers because the informal nature of influence marketing makes it difficult to track and regulate these various vices.
Just a few weeks ago, there was concern that a local Instagram influencer was marketing a product through deceptive claims. Now, it’s more concerning when it gets to health products or advertising to children and there is deceptive marketing and misbranding.
There are two approaches to regulating influencer marketing; first is on the influencers side where the regulator shouldn’t be bothered much because it would be tiresome to hold individuals accountable for deceptive marketing.
Private parties are best placed to hold them accountable by litigating influencers. So, this leaves regulators to deal with companies and brands on the legal obligation to advertise honestly to consumers and that extends to social media influencers too.
Therefore, this means that there is need to educate influencers on their legal obligations so that they don’t find themselves taken advantage of by shady brands in deceptive marketing campaigns.
For example, what would it mean to an influencer to market a tobacco product which is outside the Tobacco Control Act (2007) and Tobacco Control Regulations?