Media & Technology

Love It or Hate It

Fame is no longer an out-of-touch dream since social media has become the platform of building personal branding. In this article, Jacynth will be exploring the rise of Micro-Celebrity, and their presence and issues in product placement on social media.

Product placement has not been practiced as much within films recently. It was first started by Unilever, consciously placing a box of Sunlight Soap in Lumière film’s in the 1890s, however the most successful examples for using product placement in a film is the James Bond franchise. These movies have successfully promoted a variety of worldwide known brands, such as Bollinger champagne, Aston Martin cars, Church’s shoes, etc. James Bond movies have been used to create an image of classic and elegant brands. After the successfulness of product placement in these films, this kind of marketing approach has started to now appear in other media, such as music videos, radio and television. And recently, it has also started to appear on social media as well.

In the meanwhile, with rapid development of technology, social media has become one of the most powerful forms of communication. This mediated form has allowed interaction through the online form easier, especially between people who are living far away from each other. However, these days, things are beginning to change. Social media has become a platform for self-branding, an ability to build a brand around one’s career and personal name. It’s all about creating a persona and marketing oneself as an expert in the industry. Causing fame to be no longer an ‘out-of-touch’ dream for people, it can now be reality.

It can be said that the self-branding creates the rise of micro celebrity, which can be in the form of a ‘Blogger’, a ‘YouTuber’ or even an ‘Instagrammer’, who has a small, but very engaged and valuable audience. A micro celebrity is truly passionate, knowledgeable and authentic, and are seen to be a trusted source of information when it comes to recommendations of what to buy. Anyone might able to become the next micro celebrity, by using self-presentation as a technique in which people view themselves as a public persona, to be consumed by others, and use strategic intimacy to appeal to their followers.

Thus, the concept of micro celebrity or so called ‘micro-influencers’ has already been gaining traction with some marketers, and they have started to present product placement with these micro celebrities to gain a platform of free promotion to their followers. Being paid to post themselves using these products, the micro celebrities never push their followers to buy these products; instead, they lead people to a lifestyle page or blog post to gently introduce the brands or products’ message. I think some of you will follow at least some micro celebrity/micro-influencers who generate this kind of product promotion through their personas, especially if you are a millennial.

However, I know some people who may be fed up with product placement, as I know it follows us throughout our online lives. Sometimes even I feel annoyed when it keeps popping up on my social media pages. However, I do enjoy these selling techniques in the area of fashion, as it allows me to keep up with trends and learn where to buy the best products through micro celebrities’ recommendations. So I guess product placement online has some advantages?

Nevertheless, how much truthfulness are in these posts? Frankly, I never even thought of this being an issue until I saw the case of a fashion blogger from Australia, Essena O’Neill. She received a great deal of money from fashion companies for her social media posts when she promoted clothes, swimwear and health drinks through her profiles. However, one day she revealed to her followers that most of her social media posts were in fact not real, and most of her content was encouraged by companies to promote their products and as a result she received a pay check. Her revelation inspired me to look further into the negative effects these companies were having on the ‘unaware’ user.

Following from this, there is a case about Kim Kardashian that came to my attention. In 2015, she was doing product placement on her Instagram for a morning-sickness drug, which resulted in a warning letter from The Food and Drug Administration. Her post was accused for misleading consumers – since she was paid for the post and she did not include a health warning. These two cases made me think that we need to have some sort of legislation to supervise companies paying celebrities to support their products online. This will allow guidelines of legal and ethical ways to sell to online users through the celebrity. As I know, there are laws and regulations within adverts on television and films, I believe the online world needs to follow suit.

For example, The European Union allows advertising for audiovisual media services through light entertainment. However, product placement is not allowed to be included within certain programs such as news channels, children television shows, as well as political and religious programs. However, the problem in my eyes is that these laws and regulations are only applied to television and film. Until now there are no well-established laws or regulation controls over product placement on social media, allowing a gray area to be taken into effect for sellers and buyers online.

No matter whether you love it or hate it, it is an undeniable fact that product placement on social media has become a trend. Well-known brands such as Nike and Adidas are hiring the ‘micro celebrity’ to sell. I still love to see product placement on social media, because it is the fastest and easiest way get to know the latest fashion trend. However, there are areas that need to improve. The issues of misleading and unethical posts to online audiences are becoming more of a threat, and as I believe this trend of product placement through the media is only going to evolve into bigger things, a serious look at laws and legislation in the online world needs to become a top priority.