Marketing campaigns have always been held to account. Thanks to the likes of the ASA, consumers are protected from misleading advertisements and false claims. However, 2018 was the year that marketing authenticity in the beauty world was increasingly called into question.

Just how authentic were the big media campaigns? Were companies being as open and honest as they could be about said promotions? And, as influencer marketing rose to new heights, are these aforementioned influencers working hard enough to protect legitimacy in sponsored beauty advertising?

Let’s look at the Style Nanda drama. The brand, part of the L’Oréal-owned 3CE umbrella, launched a nail varnish image for the Take a Layer Layering Nail Lacquer in #SoftOrange advertising campaign that featured a hand which appeared to be painted black. The company issued an apology and removed the ad from the campaign. However, as to be expected consumer backlash ensued with a blogger pointing out that people of color do not have black palms, as was depicted in the image. This was a major own goal for this company and sparked the industry conversation about whether other brands were doing the same.

However, marketing authenticity went beyond misleading campaigns this year. And with the rise and rise of influencers, so came influencer fraud. Who could forget that Listerine Instagram scandal? Scarlett Dixon (Instagram name Scarlett London – the first Insta gloss) posted a paid-for advert by Johnson & Johnson depicting an image of her normal morning routine, surrounded by flowers and balloons, I mean, who doesn’t get ready like this in the morning? But rather than lure in consumers with this misconstrued version of reality, consumers saw straight through it, and were vocal about their dislike for the falsity. Feed comments such as “…somehow social media influencers managed to develop a form of advertising that is less authentic and human than the most sanitized 90s shampoo commercial (sic)” abounded and Listerine came under fire.

Therefore it seems that, while the rise of influencer marketing has inevitably led to more questionable marketing tactics, both consumers and the bigger brands are intent on cracking down on the practice. Unilever, for example, stated it would prioritize partners ‘who eradicate fraud and support increased visibility and transparency’, and would come down hard on those that dabble in the practice of buying followers. Unilever CMO Keith Weed stated, “The key to improving the situation is three-fold: cleaning up the influencer ecosystem by removing misleading engagement; making brands and influencers more aware of the use of dishonest practices; and improving transparency from social platforms to help brands measure impact.”

Likewise L’Oréal, no doubt still licking its wounds from the Style Nanda debacle, has also committed to eradicating potential fraud. Discussing its influencer vetting process, the company stated that once it has narrowed the field, it then uses tools to identify potentially fraudulent accounts, such as those with suspicious spikes in followers. The European beauty giant has also launched a new marketingassessment standard.

In the words of Digital Strategy Consultant​ Scott Guthrie as told to City AM, when brands fail to ‘walk the talk’, they open up a gap between their stated values and their lived values. That gap gets blown wide open via social media as we, the consumer, call them out for not doing what they say they do.”

This is a thought brands would be wise to take into 2019 as influencers increasingly become the ad avenue of choice for many consumers, consumers who are seeking the real over the fake. ‘Authenticity’ is a 2018 buzzword sure to make it into 2019 and beyond. Check out our in-conversation with… ‘2018 Review’, where we discuss this issue further.