Product placement is nothing new, in fact, it’s a tale as old as time. Whether it be Wilson the volleyball or the countless music video stars and their Beats, we are bombarded with these gentle (or not so gentle) reminders that celebrities are just like us. Here are the products they use, and you should use them too.
It’s pretty easy to spot overt product placement, but what happens when you’re scrolling your Instagram a feed and come across your favorite Bachelor contestant showing off a new pair of “sunnies” or your fitspo follow sharing her favorite smoothie recipe that includes a specific brand of protein powder. In recent years, it has become harder to spot when products are being intentionally marketed towards us. Even with the addition of the trusty sponsored post, there is something about Instagram ads that seems a little sneakier than good old-fashioned product placement.
When a brand pays to be referenced in a film or TV show there is a level of responsibility the platform has to ensure the brand is trustworthy. If a film comes out supporting a faulty product the whole movie is tainted. Yet, when an influencer creates a post supporting a weight loss tea that is said to have very negative side effects, no one bats an eye. Sure, they might get called out here or there but for the most part, they get off scot-free and continue to post disingenuous ads.
Speaking of Scott, celebrity influencer and member of the Kardashian empire Scott Disick, was the first person to (inadvertently) unveil the insincerity of these sponsored posts. In an ad for Bootea, he appeared to have accidentally copy and pasted the intended caption along with the instructions for posting. The caption read “Here you go, at 4pm est, write below. Caption: Keeping up with the summer workout routine with my morning @booteauk protein shake!” That’s a pretty big mistake to make. Of course, we would have known it was a sponsored post regardless of the blunder, however, there is something so underhanded about knowing brands are telling people what and when to post on their personal accounts.
As someone studying IMC, this sort of marketing behavior really becomes a Sophie’s choice. There is no denying the power Instagram ads have in terms of creating brand awareness. We follow people on Instagram because we want to see their lives, the products they’re using, and in turn what products we should be using. But how do we make the informed choice when we don’t truly know it is a product they actually use or just a payout. When Serena Williams signs a contract with Nike we know that without a doubt she will be playing in Nike equipment, there is a level of accountability there. But when Scott Disick posts about protein powder we have no idea if that product ever even got opened.
There isn’t really a clear fix to ensure that brands and influencers are held accountable for the content they post and promote but, as IMC students I urge to be diligent and aware of those sneaky little sponsored posts and as IMC practitioners I urge you to learn from Scott’s mistake.