Social Media

Trust and the Value of Disclosure in Marketing

A drawing of a girl reading online, and becoming frustrated.
Written by Laura Mengot

In my previous article, I talked about social media influencers, sponsored content and corporate greed. I am now following up with a few thoughts surrounding the disclosure of sponsored content in advertising. Disclosure is one of the cornerstones of advertising, but what should be an established common practice becomes murky when you look into social media advertising.

Can we trust that brands and influencers are being truthful and transparent to their consumers?

Let’s set the scene:

Suppose you are browsing the internet and stumble upon a video of one of the YouTubers you follow. They are talking about this great new laptop they just bought and how good it is. You watch the video and continue with your browsing after it ends.

At some point, you find yourself needing a new laptop. You have been brand-loyal so far, but you’re open to trying new things. So, you take to the internet and begin an arduous search to find the laptop that best suits your needs. While you’re at it, you might even click on that video you saw again.

A drawing of a girl holding a laptop with a sad face coming out of a speech bubble.

The Death of the Laptop

Marketing techniques have morphed and adapted to the different types of media we consume. Product placement has grown in television and film, and endorsed sponsorships are becoming a common feature of the social media landscape. We are bombarded by so many products and presented with so much choice it is overwhelming. However, it has had a different effect: seeing so many products shown in our day-to-day media has made us relatively blind to them.


Making the right choice

Going back to the laptop dilemma. You may have become aware, thanks to conveniently placed products, of certain recurring brands within your favourite shows. By this point, you have also read enough reviews and watched so many YouTube videos from a wide range of audiences that you may as well call yourself an expert on the subject.

But you’re starting to form an idea of what you want, and that is a good thing. You are drawn towards the more familiar advertised brands, but you also remember that stellar review of this particular laptop by that one YouTuber. They seemed pleased with their experience, and you have watched them long enough to feel like you have a connection with them.

Would that review affect your purchase decision? Most probably. After all, it comes from someone you trust.

A drawing of a girl reading online, and becoming frustrated.

Everyone online has an opinion. But who can you trust?

A Question of Transparency

Now, that video you watched? It turns out the influencer failed to disclose the endorsement for that particular product. As good as the laptop may actually be, you probably wish you knew that before taking the opinion at face value. What once felt like an informed decision, now doesn’t sit so well.

Have you been misled? According to the FTC, you were. Whilst product placement in film and television does not necessarily have to be disclosed, sponsored and endorsed content should.

Consumers should be able to make an informed decision about any subject. Knowing of any relationship between company and endorser forms part of this decision-making process. This is especially important in this day and age, where a key part of consumer behaviour is to heavily research an item before committing to any form of purchase. And even more so if you think about the countless of people that take time to review products online without prompting or payment from companies.

So, here is an interesting question: In this case, were you mislead by the brand itself, or by the influencer?


Recognition, Reputation and Prestige

Public opinion of a brand can be just as important as brand recognition. Striving for transparency and ethical behaviours is useless if there is a lack of good practice between all parties involved. If brands are delegating their social media efforts, they should ensure that the rules are being followed and accept the responsibility of any malpractice on account of influencers.

Disclosure is important because it feeds into the trust the consumers have in a particular brand, which in turn feeds into its public reputation. Quoting C.E.O of Andy Sernovitz in his presentation titled “Social media disclosure and ethics for big brands”:

“Trust is what makes social media, and word of mouth different than any other kind of marketing {…} We depend on the trust of our fans and our friends and our followers to relay our messages for us. Which means if we break the trust or we don’t earn the trust, there is no way to be successful in a business that depends on other people sharing our messages for us.”

Or: When customers trust a company, they are much more likely to share anything in relation to them in a positive manner. Trust leads to successful Word of Mouth Marketing, which is one of the most effective and successful forms of marketing.

So, can we Trust?

To trust, or not to trust. That is the age-old question, and it does not only apply to the subject of disclosure. We could try and justify our position by using the phrase “innocent until proven otherwise”, but the opposite is also true.

Social Media Influencers are still a relatively new concept, and just like laptops, they come in many shapes and forms. In this age of information, we can only take advantage of what is at our fingertips and use the internet and social media to our own advantage.

After all, it is all good and well to trust, but any situation in life, online or offline, should be approached with a pinch of salt and a healthy element of questioning.

About the author


Laura Mengot