It’s no secret that the influencer marketing industry has a tricky relationship with the FTC with regards to guideline compliance. There have been numerous instances of run-ins between influencers and the FTC, almost all of them caused by sponsored parties failing to disclose the nature of their endorsements in their material.
Estimates suggest that 93% of top celebrities neglect to appropriately signal their relationships with brands during social media campaigns. In 2017, FTC warning letters were sent to over 90 celebs, influencers, and brands who violated endorsement guidelines. In a market where the primary bargaining chip is trust between the influencer and the audience, it’s imperative to not take its effectiveness for granted.
As the industry continues to expand dramatically towards the end of this decade, the importance of brands, influencers, and agencies to play by the rules will become a primary consideration. You only have to look at the debacle Kim Kardashian found herself in with the FDA back in 2015 by failing to adhere to the correct standards.
FTC Warns Vaping Influencers
The vaping industry is the latest industry to have run into issues with FTC and FDA compliance this year. Whether that is because influencers have been callous or because they haven’t been given a structured program for best sponsorship practices is what we’re going to discuss today.
Either way, it’s vital that marketers and influencers learn how to execute a bulletproof campaign without running into compliance issues.
FTC Warning Letters Aim to Evaporate Misleading Influencer Sponsored Posts By Including Health Warnings
Vape products are in an interesting position as far as influencer marketing goes. Typically, brands and influencers fall foul of either FTC or FDA guidelines. E-liquid promotions run the risk of failing both, meaning sponsored posts need to be extra careful in their social media campaigns.
Not only do posts have to disclose the sponsor behind the campaign, but they also have to abide by the correct disclosures required and outlined by the FDA concerning health risks and concerns applicable to consumers.
In light of this, the FTC and FDA have jointly sent warnings to four companies:
- Solace Vapor
- Hype City Vapors
- Humble Juice
- Artist Liquids Laboratories
The FTC warning letters highlighted that influencer campaigns pushed by the brands ‘fail[ed] to disclose material health or safety risks in advertising.’ The FDA stated that their posts failed to include a required federal warning that the item promoted included nicotine.
Let’s have a look at some examples of e-liquid posts that get it right; and those that get it wrong.
Deceptive Influencer Marketing Of Vape Products
Shontel Anestasia is a nano-influencer based in New York City. Her post is an endorsement of e-liquid brand, Humble Juice, and features a short caption with no disclosure tags and a @humblejuiceco reference. The engagement for the post was an impressive 7.7%—an indication of the power of utilizing smaller influencers in campaigns.
Andrew Reed is another nano-influencer nearing 3,000 followers, collaborating with Hype City Vapors. He features a short, personalized caption with an ‘advertisement’ disclosure at the end. He does fall short of FDA regulations, however, by failing to disclose the health concerns of the endorsed product.
Elissa Lynn is an ambassador for Artist Liquids Laboratories. Her post is excellent from a pure social media marketing standpoint, with an artful image, great caption, good tag use, and a compelling call-to-action. From a compliance standpoint, it does not abide by FDA guidelines.
This New Jersey-based micro-influencer maintains endorsements from several brands; this post featuring an Artist Liquid Lab product. If sponsored, the post doesn’t acknowledge the partnership, while also lacking FDA compliance.
It’s worth noting, however, that the image shows the health warnings on the product packaging, and the influencer consistently abides by FDA regulations in his other posts with the use of banners. It doesn’t feature the now-popular banner across the top of the image. Just to stay on the safe side, exercise caution and state in the caption or with an image banner.
Proper Disclosure Of Vape Product Health Risks
Vapingkamea is a mid-tier influencer with 60,000 followers endorsed by Solace Vapor. Her post features an image with a warning banner and a short caption with a nicotine warning along with the appropriate #ad within the tags. This is a typical example of a post that adheres to both FTC and FDA regulations.
Farrah is by far the biggest influencer on our list. With 235K followers. She is comfortably in the mid-tier of social media influencers and has a large audience, styling herself as a ‘vape promoter’ after quitting from 15 years of smoking.
Her post has a short caption with the FTC-compliant #ad and #sponsored tags, in addition to the familiar banner that we will become more accustomed to with smoking- and vaping-related promotions.
Will The FTC Regulate Soon Regulate The Promotion Of Detox Teas, Too?
As we’ve seen in these examples, correct disclosure by influencers can be difficult. As marketers and brands continue to use strategies of sponsoring smaller influencers, it’s almost a certainty that non-compliance with guidelines will occur and some will slip through the cracks.
Unlike larger influencers, nano- or micro-influencers may lack the knowledge or direction to appropriately comply with regulations.
It’s not just vaping brands that will have run-ins with federal agencies over influencer marketing. The latest concern regards the promotion of detox teas which claim weight-loss benefits for consumers.
This post, for example, is FTC-compliant, with a clear indication that the post is sponsored by Flat Tummy Co., but there is a gray area with the promotion.
The brand is careful not to express specific medical or health benefits of their tea, but a significant number of posts clearly position the tea as a supplement to weight-loss for women.
None of the sponsored posts outline any direct health benefits or adverse effects from consuming their product, raising concerns of transparency from brands using influencer marketing to reach out to audiences.
When pharmaceutical brands ran into similar issues, they were quick to navigate the FDA and FTC obstacles by instead opting to partner with influencers without promoting individual products. They often form partnerships to promote a cause, avoiding directly endorsing consumer products—more importantly, they can also avoid those off-putting health warnings required by the FDA.
E-Liquid Product Companies Are Responsible For Ensuring Influencers Disclose Health Warnings To Protect Consumers
As an industry, influencer marketing is only as strong as the trust that influencers can enjoy from their audiences. That trust is principally maintained through openness and transparency.
It’s vital that brands and influencers do not take advantage of the relationships built with audiences. It’s generally the case that online audiences are pretty switched-on when it comes to perceptions of influencer marketing, and are good at separating a poorly considered campaign from a successful one.
There is, however, a unique determination to be made regarding the social media marketing of products that can have direct effects on a consumer’s health (positive or adverse)—something that predominantly concerns certain industries such as medicine.
With regards to e-liquids, the FDA and FTC warning letters are clear indications that they will be willing to step in if they feel that certain products are being marketed without the correct compliance.
Like pharmaceutical brands, e-liquid or nutrition brands may conclude that complying by FDA rules is too much of a turn-off for their consumers, in which case they may seek to try different approaches that don’t directly advertise specific products to get around them.
It will be up to the governing bodies to ensure that the playing field is level for brands of all industries, and it’s up to marketers and influencers to maintain transparency and continue building strong relationships with their audiences.
If TikTok has so far only been on the periphery of your social media landscape, it’s time to start paying attention. Previously known as Musical.ly and acquired by Chinese company ByteDance in late 2017, TikTok has grown to become one of the most-used apps in the US and across the globe. In light of this growth, several TikTok trends have begun to take shape among its user base.
TikTok Trends Worldwide
Launched in 2012 in China, the majority of its vast 1 billion users reside in China. After aggressively expanding worldwide over the last few years, ByteDance merged Musical.ly into TikTok and brought its users over to the platform in August 2018.
Since the merger, the app has ascended into the spotlight. ByteDance doesn’t publicly release it figures like other social media competitors, but an estimated 188 million users downloaded it worldwide in Q1 2019, an increase of 70% from Q1 2018.
TikTok Awakens User Curiosity & Virtuosity
TikTok allows users to record 15-second videos and upload them for the world to see. The content varies—from comedy skits and dance routines to lip-syncing and pranks, it has spread like wildfire among younger audiences, particularly with the Gen Z demographic. It’s easy to see why: user-friendly with digestible and entertaining content, TikTok is an addictive platform—the spiritual successor to Vine.
Once you dig into TikTok’s growing trend subculture, it can seem a little confusing to those not familiar with the platform.
Below is a rundown of the most popular TikTok trends currently dominating the space so that your brand can stay up-to-date on what’s trending with influencer marketing campaigns, viral social media content, and branded social promotions on TikTok.
8 Most Popular TikTok Trends To Follow
Challenges unite a large part of TikTok’s eclectic content ecosystem. Users record themselves attempting to perform a challenge and often challenge others to do the same.
Examples of TikTok challenges include:
- ‘Haribo Challenge’ – Arranging hundreds of gummy bears as a crowd while Adele’s “Someone Like You” plays in the background)
- ‘Fake Travel Challenge’ – Using everyday objects and pictures to mimic travel photos to comedic effect.
- ‘Raindrop Challenge’ – Adding dramatic visual effects that mimic a rain shower and halting the rain in accordance with music beats.
Lately, sponsors have been getting in on the act by creating their own challenges to garner interest and engagement. Jimmy Fallon was one of the first celebrities to jump on the wagon, starting a ‘Tumbleweed Challenge’ as one of TikTok’s first influencer collaborations on the platform. More recently, brands like Google and network ABC have been utilizing the platform for awareness, marking a clear shift in thinking from major corporations that TikTok is a viable marketing platform.
Where would a social media platform be if it didn’t have memes? TikTok, more than networks, is unusually reliant on memes for much of its content. Unlike other platforms, TikTok thrives on its irreverence. Users can be found making fun of themselves in embarrassing ways in public; performing silly pranks; doing skits—meme culture falls perfectly into the lap of TikTok’s community.
You might have heard someone yell out ‘hit or miss’ in public, or seen people dressing up their pets, or maybe even the ‘karma is a bitch’ meme, which sees people recording themselves as being ‘normal’, before pulling a blanket or sheet over themselves and revealing their better-looking self.
As you can imagine, this in-turn spawned parodies in which people would ‘reveal’ themselves to look exactly the same as their ‘normal’ selves. Memes form a large part of the backbone of TikTok’s content base and are in large part responsible for the community’s engagement and success—YouTube compilations of TikTok memes garners millions of views.
3. Influencer Sponsorships
A question that’s been on the lips of everyone in the influencer marketing industry: “Sure, TikTok is popular, but is it a relevant platform for brands and influencers?”
For a long time, owner ByteDance was happy to let the user base grow and sit back to allow the fostering of a large community, operating at a loss. Vine, a similar short-form video platform, died because influencers abandoned the network for more lucrative social media endeavors. Having cultivated a huge amount of popularity, brands are now actively looking at ways to use the network for their marketing efforts, with a large increase in influencer collaborations over the last few months.
ByteDance have themselves kicked off a campaign for TikTok, recently recruiting Charlie Puth, Kris Jenner, and Paris Hilton to push their #memeathon tag and, per our case study, saw very positive levels of engagements. ByteDance is keen to show brands that the platform is open, willing, and proactive in introducing influencer marketing to their audience.
We’ve seen several large brands launch campaigns on the platform, including fitness clothing brand Gymshark, Sony, Calvin Klein, and Coca Cola.
With many TikTok users worldwide and the U.S. being familiar with the Musical.ly platform prior to the acquisition, it should come as no surprise that its features continue to play a major role in the popularity of TikTok.
One such feature is the ability to ‘Duet’, introduced in the summer of 2018. It allows users to create custom videos and play them in a split-screen format next to another video of their choice, whether they know them or not. This has lead to an entire culture trend of TikTok users doing duets with friends, celebrities, popular TikTok users, and themselves.
Slow motion is one of the many effects that users can implement into their videos at the tap of a button. It’s one of the key themes of TikTok’s content and is typically found in more visual content. For example pranks, stunts, dance moves; all of which lend well to slow motion effects.
Under the #Slowmo tag, videos get billions of hits—more than 26 billion. Compilations of slow-mo videos rack up even more millions of views on YouTube.
With TikTok becoming more popular and more monetized, celebrities have been slowly and tentatively trying out the platform, whether for branded sponsorships, awareness or just plain fun.
From Amy Schumer to Cardi B and the aforementioned Fallon, celebrities are more frequently using the network as its mainstream awareness grows. This will no doubt come as an enormous relief to ByteDance, who will look to position themselves as a conventional social media platform and shake the tag of being the ‘New Vine’. Vine was famously overly-reliant on its biggest community stars and more or less collapsed when they jumped ship.
Having an established presence of conventional celebrities—many of whom use the platform much like Instagram Stories—will do wonders for widening the reach of the network.
Cosplay is a trend that has been much in the mainstream for years now. It’s not uncommon to find pictures of people’s elaborate recreations of their favorite characters at movie or gaming influencer conventions.
What marks TikTok out is the ability to showcase Cosplay in a short, ordered, video format—it can help bring cosplaying to life. With a young audience (nothing against older cosplayers, of course), TikTok is fertile ground for creatives to show off their costumes to the world.
From Lara Croft to Spider-Man, people are showcasing their cosplays in new and inventive ways through TikTok’s features. There’s no doubt that there’s a huge audience for the content, nearly 5 million cosplay posts and over 12 billion views between them speaks to how massive this trend is within the community.
On TikTok, this theme counts as the exact opposite of the sibling rivalry content that can usually be found online. The trending hashtag #twins is huge, with 1.8 million posts and 9 billion views of videos featuring it.
Expect to find twins dancing together or performing some kind of content in tandem, whether it’s soccer or comedy, it’s definitely a trend that’s here to stay for the time being.
TikTok is quickly becoming the go-to platform for this kind of collaborative content. With YouTube prioritizing longer-form content, apps that afford their users the opportunity to create short-form videos for a large community will thrive. For this particular trend and others like it, it’s easy to see why TikTok is seeing so much activity among creators and viewers.