In the past 10 years, a sector of the public relations and advertising industries that has just exploded is referred to as "sponcon." This is a combination of two words, "sponsored content," and although it takes different forms, all sponcon comes under the heading of "influencer marketing."
For years, we have seen celebrities in advertisements discussing all the benefits of a new car, for instance, and how it makes them feel so great driving that car. These are clearly advertisements, and nobody questions them.
Things start getting a bit fuzzy – in that these advertisements don't always look like advertisements – when we discuss another form of sponcon: product placement in movies. This also is not new, but if you can believe it, as recently as 30 years ago, Hollywood producers would ask permission of companies such as Coca-Cola if they could show an actor drinking a Coke in the film. Then it dawned on them. There's money to be made by displaying a brand in a movie. Now Coke, Pepsi, and other soft drink manufacturers bid on those placements, realizing they are a very effective way to promote them on the big screen.
Well, a new form of sponcon product placement has moved over to social media and is fuzzier still, when it comes to the unsuspecting consumer. For instance, a celebrity may post a picture of themselves on Instagram or Facebook, sipping from a bottle of Coke or some other brand. They could have been sipping any type of pop drink, but more than likely Coca Cola paid for that spot.
A strategy used in the hospitality industry is even more subtle: have our celebrity photographed while on vacation. The celebrity posts a picture of themselves having a great time and in the background just happens to be the hotel they are staying in, with the hotel's name clearly visible.
Just so you know, the Federal Trade Commission does require influencers to mention if they have received money, gifts, or anything of value in return for showing an image of themselves with a particular brand. However, at least at this time, the FTC is not actively monitoring these placements or the individual influencers. Most likely this is because they are getting few complaints about it from consumers.
So where do we see most of this social media sponcon? Instagram appears to be the big favorite. In 2018, nearly 4 million sponcon-type ads were posted on this platform. That's 43 percent more than in 2017. We should add that in some cases, the fact that it is a form of advertising is properly disclosed, but that is more the exception than the rule.
All kinds of companies are jumping on this form of advertising. The fashion industry – clothing and cosmetics – was among the first to seize the opportunity. Today, they are joined by brands hawking miracle weight-loss teas, rental apartments, therapies of all kinds, and music festivals, to name a few.
Typically, for a celebrity to be an influencer, he or she must have lots and lots of followers on a particular platform. For instance, the young actor Luka Sabbat has close to 2 million Instagram followers. A PR firm paid him $45,000 just to be photographed wearing a brand of sunglasses during Fashion Week in New York.
Working with their agents, some celebrities are put on retainers, paying them anywhere from $1,000 a month to as much as $20,000 per month depending on their influencer status. The retainers are designed to ensure the celebrity is not seen wearing or using a competing brand.
So, what do you do if you don't have an extra $1,000 or $20,000 a month to call on a celebrity whenever you need one? The best bet is to make yourself an influencer, and you do this by engaging with your followers:
Freely share information and tips.
Be passionate about your industry and your products.
Focus on the needs of your followers so you resonate with them.
And stick with it.
It takes time, but if you are authentic and focus on the most valuable social media platforms for your industry, you can become your own influencer for your brand.
Prepared for DS&P by AlturaSolutions Communications