Sponsorships have become a very hot topic as of recently. Authentic, honest and genuine reviews are becoming a rarity in a world full of sponsored visual reviews. Companies will easily spend thousands and giveaway endless free products to social media influencers just to get their brand name shown. I would know this first hand as a public relations major. I currently intern for a luxury hospitality and lifestyle public relations firm. I have gained endless valuable and priceless knowledge, but I have also seen how backdoor operations work. In exchange for social media posts and shoutouts, hotels and restaurants will giveaway free suites, comp’d dinners (for the influencer plus guests), all day paid for excursions and more. It’s truly baffling to see how unauthentic this can be.
I personally believe that sponsored content warnings should be clearly visible and evident at the beginning of the post. If the post is just an Instagram caption, it should appear in the first sentence or two. If it is a three thousand word blog review, it should appear within the first two paragraphs. If it is a video, it should be within the first 30 seconds. This is the best, ethical approach to paid sponsorships and will help build a transparent honest relationship with followers.
While this is my personal belief, it is clearly obvious that not that many people follow these guidelines. In my personal experience, the majority of freelance, self-promoting social media influencers who have sponsored content do not even bother with disclaimer statements. Their posts are most likely going to be biased and flawed. They will give rave reviews of the brand and it will be entirely hollow.
I find there is one major exception for professional journalists. While ‘trending’ influencers will not say anything, the majority of professional journalists as outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, etc., will clearly write out at the beginning of their articles that the following critique was paid for and that their opinions do not reflect any bias. This is the best practice to follow. It shows that there is an attempt, to be honest, and I am more likely to believe their review of the sponsorship compared to others.
Jack Busch, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Spring 2018 Media Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the following question: Does it matter where you tell your followers a post is sponsored content (I.e. the beginning of the post v. the end of the post)? Should it matter? Do people really even read through to the end of Instagram captions or watch through full YouTube videos or are they likely to miss the sponsorship statement?