Perceived unethical influencers
Influencers have the ability to persuade their followers, because of their perceived trustworthiness, attractiveness and expertise (Lou & Yuan, 2019). Because of this perception about influencers, they have the possibility to develop their own products, and gain economically as a result of their followers becoming their customers. Commonly developed influencer products are, for example, merchandise in the form of clothing and cosmetics. Moreover, influencers most often promote and model their own products, but it is also common to have other influencers promote their brand. It is important to question the implication of influencer marketing, with reference to ethical issues. In this text, I will take a closer look at macro influencers that have questionable marketing strategies. More specifically, I will focus on the Kardashian sisters, Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian West, and Sophie Elise, one of Norway’s most influential and criticized influencers.
Influencers are most often individuals who gain celebrity status through sharing their personal life, which can further lead to brand collaborations and brand development. The Kardashian sisters are examples of celebrities that have become social media influencers. The Kardashian sisters, whom initially gained their success through their series “Keeping Up With The Kardashians”, have made millions of dollars on brand collaborations and their own products, which are often promoted on their own social media platforms. Because of the Kardashian sisters’ fame and popular Instagram accounts, they have gained an enormous influential power. Furthermore, according to Statista, the most frequent users of Instagram in the United States were adolescents (Clement, Statista, 2020). Therefore, it is safe to assume that the sisters have a young, more easily influenced audience. Additionally, Kylie Jenner, the youngest of the sisters and entrepreneur of both Kylie Cosmetics and Kylie Skin, has more than 200 million followers on Instagram (Clement, Statista, 2020). Kim Kardashian West, the second oldest of the sisters and entrepreneur of KKW Beauty, KKW Fragrance and SKIMS, has a little over 200 million followers on Instagram (per January 2021). Jenner and West frequently market their products on their personal Instagram feeds, although their brands have their own Instagram accounts. Meaning that their followers, whom are likely to be youth and adolescents, are constantly exposed to their product marketing (Clement, Statista, 2020). Moreover, Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian West’s marketing strategies for their brands, include sending PR boxes containing their product collections to other major influencers. These influencers promote Jenner and West’s products on their social media platforms. Meaning that a larger range of potential customers is reached, and the products gain trustworthiness, because of multiple influencers testing and confirming the products efficiency. Furthermore, a major ethical issue in influencer marketing is the use of distorted photos. Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian West both models for their own products, and like many other influencers, Jenner and West have been accused of heavily editing their pictures several times. For instance, Kim Kardashian West has developed shapewear, yet she has been accused of both cosmetic procedures and severe editing of her photos. In the case of brand marketing, edited photos and cosmetic procedures can make the costumers believe that the products have an effect that in reality, is the effect of Photoshop and surgeries. Continuous use of edited photos, if detected, can diminish followers’ trust in certain influencers (Lou & Yuan, 2019).
The constant exposure to cosmetic surgeries and toxic body ideals, have been a concern on social media platforms, especially with reference to easily influenced youth and adolescents. In Norway, there are a few influencers who have undergone cosmetic surgeries in order to achieve their desired body ideal. Furthermore, these influencers have spoken openly about their procedures and often share photos on their social media platforms. This has created a debate in Norway, as many perceive influencers as role models. Hence, they have an influential power. Therefore, it is important that influencers consider the messages being sent to their followers when sharing content. An influencer who has been accused of being a dangerous role model in Norway, is Sophie Elise Isachsen Steen, most commonly known as Sophie Elise. She is one of Norway’s most famous influencers. The background for these accusations against Steen, are grounded in her standpoint on cosmetic procedures, her openness about her own body complexes and the constant sharing of barely dressed photos on for example Instagram. Steen has argued that she is exercising her right to freedom of expression, and that she should be praised for showing the female body. Furthermore, Sophie Elise frequently advertise underwear. However, when she does so, she also sometimes tags Instagram pages that would be considered inappropriate content for a younger audience. Sophie Elise constantly reinforces the idea that the female body should be slim, fit and figured. On the other hand, Steen argues that everyone should be allowed to share photos of their bodies, no matter the shape or size, and that everyone should be praised. Furthermore, as a result of Steen’s success, she has been able to build her own business and her own self tan brand; “Glöd by Sophie Elise”. Steen models for her own products and market them on her social media platforms, especially on Instagram and YouTube. A message she constantly conveys to her audience, is that she feels fresher when she’s tan. Sophie Elise portrays a focus on external appearances on her social media platforms, which many consider to be unethical because of her young audience.
To sum up, influencers’ social media accounts are becoming a source of advertising, where followers are constantly exposed to products that can make them feel “better” about their appearances. Many influencers have a young audience, and therefore, it is important that they consider what they share. The Kardashian sisters and Sophie Elise are only a few of the influencers whom are accused of sharing toxic body ideals on their social media platforms. The Kardashians have been accused of altering their bodies, both cosmetically and through the use of Photoshop. Furthermore, Sophie Elise has spoken openly about her cosmetic surgeries, and has been accused of being Norway’s most dangerous role model because of her openness and bodily expression in the form of photographs. The Kardashian sisters and Sophie Elise are some of the largest influencers within their regions, and therefore, they have an enormous influential power. Many influencers have undergone cosmetic procedures and edit their photos, which might give their customers false expectations about the products certain influencers promote.
Clement, J. (2020, December 3). Statista. Retrieved from Instagram accounts with the most followers worldwide 2020: https://www.statista.com/statistics/421169/most-followers-instagram/
Clement, J. (2020, September 23). Statista. Retrieved from Reach of leading social networking sites used by teenage and young adult online users in the United States as of 3rd quarter 2020: https://www.statista.com/statistics/199242/social-media-and-networking-sites-used-by-us-teenagers/
Lou, C., & Yuan, S. (2019). Influencer Marketing: How Message Value and Credibility Affect Consumer Trust of Branded Content on Social Media. Journal of Interactive Advertising.
YouGov. (2020). YouGov. Retrieved from TV Show — Keeping Up With The Kardashians: https://today.yougov.com/topics/media/explore/tv_show/Keeping_Up_With_The_Kardashians