Listerine influencer marketing debacle: why the brand should be shouldering much of the blame.


Last week Scarlett Dixon (aka Scarlett London) posted an advertisement to her Instagram feed in a paid partnership with Listerine. It created a tonne of attention. All for the wrong reasons. But was the focus of the backlash against the influencer misplaced?

On 31 August Dixon posted this advertisement to her 49k Instagram followers. Yes, it was staged, yes it was trite. Yes it appears to feature tortillas propped on her bed masquerading as pancakes. Yes the influencer was sitting on a bedspread that sported a huge photo of herself on it.

But was the post any more staged and trite than a thousand other Instagram ads? And, as an advertisement, where was the creative team of Listerine or its parent, Johnson & Johnson, to steer a better creative output impacting their brand. Where too was their support for Dixon in the post’s aftermath?

Listerine influencer marketing debacle

Listerine influencer marketing: Scarlett Dixon's upbeat but ultimately doomed advertisement for Listerine.

Over the weekend Twitter tore Dixon’s ill-fated ad to shreds. This thread by Nathan aka @hintofsarcasm has, at the time of writing, generated 24.7k reTweets, 110.4k likes and over 4k comments.

Dixon posted messages addressing the negative response to both Instagram and Twitter.

"In the last 48 hours, grown men and women, MP’s [sic], women’s equality representatives, journalists, actresses and broadcasters have discovered my Instagram feed and decided to pick it apart [sic] online, in front of thousands ...

"Each time I refresh my page, hundreds of new nasty messages pour onto my Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, some of which have contained malicious death threats." ...

“I personally don’t think my content is harmful to young girls but I do agree Instagram can present a false expectation for people to live up to.

"And I am wholeheartedly sorry if I’ve ever made anyone feel inadequate through my content. My life mission is quite the opposite.”

Dixon’s response reminded me of the Elle Darby follow up video from January. Darby, you might remember was the hapless YouTuber called out by Dublin bed & breakfast owner Paul Stenson. 

elle darby dublin hotel influencer stunt

Some on Twitter thought Dixon was being mistreated. PR practitioner, Jessica Pardoe took to Twitter over the weekend:

Others chimed in with comments on her Instagram feed:

pjkspencerHi Scarlett don’t normally do much commenting but my wife mentioned what had been going on with your post !! I just read through some of the below comments & WOW people are stupid!! Love your kill them with kindness approach to you replies, keep on slaying”

willma268I mean the comments on here, to this young lady, are disgusting. Are you seriously blaming this single instagrammer for all the world's issues on appearance? 😂 You guys talk about mental health issues, and then publicly attack a stranger, for a photo?! Adverts (which is what this is, as she clearly states) have always been created to show the best of the product, to suggest you'll feel better when you have that product, that your life will be complete with that product. I work in advertising and marketing, I can assure you of this. 🙄🙄🙄🙄 @scarlettlondon I can only presume these haters have something deeper going on in their life... 😂 Try your best to ignore them and carry on doing you! 😘😘

I watched the Twitter backlash build throughout Saturday. I started drafting an opinion piece on Sunday morning but stopped when I saw Rebecca Stewart’s piece in The Drum published around noon.

However, given a day to reflect the story raises more issues than just a young woman staging a paid-for photo shoot on her bed with strawberries and mouthwash. The Listerine influencer marketing mishap tells us about:

  • Communicators' failure to follow influencer marketing best practice
  • Uninspiring creative direction
  • Demonstration of no partnership in paid-for partnerships
  • A conflation of influencer marketing with influencer advertising

Influencer selection

Effective influencer identification is a marriage of computing power and human intelligence. You need services such as Traackr to help you with the heavy lifting to identify appropriate influencers based on reach, resonance and relevance. You need to manually work through past content of potential influencers to determine best fit for your brand. I breakdown the process in my 4S Filter to influencer identification. Of which the screening phase is fundamental.

I lay out 19 points to successfully screen influencers in my article How to vet influencers: an influencer marketing checklist.

Who knows how Listerine identified Dixon as appropriate to represent their brand on social media. A casual look through her feed though shows equally staged, paid-for shoots for several well-known brands including flower distributor, Interflora.

Listerine influencer marketing interflora
Listerine influencer marketing material girl
Listerine influencer marketing oilJPG
Listerine influencer marketing gift rebeillion

Listerine influencer marketing: uninspired creative

Where was Listerine and its creative team? What sort of creative brief did they issue? The influencer advertisements Dixon has produced for Interflora, Material Girl and Gift Rebellion over recent months would tell any communicator what to expect from this influencer.

There was a choice for Listerine:

  1. Embrace Dixon’s creative formula
  2. Provide her with clear direction about what you want as a brand
  3. Go with someone else

In my post: How to write an influencer creative brief  I lay out 16 areas influencer marketers should take note of when working on a piece of co-created content.

This Listerine influencer advertisement from May by Gemmalondonlife shows that Dixon’s paid-for post from last week is bang on brand.

Listerine influencer marketing gemmalondonlife

Even down to the hashtag redolent of a Saturday night TV game show - where #bringoutthebold is too close to the catchphrase yelled to camera by the late Dale Winton "Bring on the wall."

Listerine influencer marketing: lack of effective disclosure

Advertising rules in the UK require that all ads are obviously identifiable as such. When it comes to advertorial content, the onus is on the publisher/influencer just as much as the brand.

All advertorial content should use an appropriate label, which should be placed somewhere consumers will be able to see it before they choose to read, watch, or listen to that content. That means the hashtag must be used, be obvious in its intention to flag the type of content is not organic and mustn’t be hidden below a sea of other hashtags.

Statements such as ‘brought to you by’, ‘in partnership with’ and ‘thanks to our friends at…’ are all ambiguous as to whether the content is advertising or is sponsored material. As such, these should be avoided as well.

CAP guidance on different kinds of vlogging advertorial explains when and where such labels should appear, and is relevant to all forms of social media.

Demonstration of no partnership in paid-for partnerships

Why should Dixon cop all of the blame for this sad, staged, trite advertisement? The Instagram influencer says the post is a paid partnership with Listerine. A partnership is the ability to structure and maintain strategic relationships that benefit everyone involved. For a partnership to be successful you genuinely have to care about the person you’re doing the deal with. Any care for Dixon seems to be seriously lacking from Johnson & Johnson and its brand, Listerine.

Where is the Listerine crisis management?

It seems that the Listerine PR team have thrown Dixon under a bus. I can’t find any support for her situation.

Influencer advertising not influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is not influencer advertising. Influencer advertising is a subset of influencer marketing, but the subset does not speak for the whole category.

The differences between Influencer marketing and influencer advertising have their roots in the differences between transactional marketing and relationship marketing.

Influencer advertising is transactional and short-lived. Work is orientated around tent-pole campaign contracts between influencer and brand.

Often driven by 'acquiring eyeballs' - brands become seduced by the influencer’s large following - and the theoretical reach that their branded messages are promised to benefit from.

Influencer advertising promotes one-hit-wonders rather than long-term relationships between brand and influencers.

Real influence is accretive. It strengthens over time. Asked My Influencer philosphy in an interview by Traackr -  influencer marketing platform, I boiled it down to three elements: long-term, win-win and measurable.

The important skill sets for influencer marketing are twofold: there are hard skills and soft skills.

  1. The hard skills are data-centric skills. That is looking under the bonnet and choosing influencers based on demographics, what they've produced before, their ratio between engagement of sponsored and organic content etc.
  2. The softer skills are crucial, too - building long-term and mutually beneficial, business-growth relationships.

I’ve written in depth about the differences between influencer advertising and influencer marketing in my article Give us influencer marketing not influencer advertising

Listerine influencer marketing as parody?

Some have suggested the Listerine influencer marketing campaign a parody. I don’t think so for two reasons: 

  1. A parody is an imitation of the style with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect. Dixon’s advertisement is too close to similar Instagram posts for it to be an exaggeration.
  2. If it were a parody Dixon wouldn’t have felt the need to issue her heart-felt response.

Influencer marketing is killing itself by churning out these ill-thought-out, poorly-executive advertisements. Such lazy or immature creative is lunge in the death by a thousand cuts to a nascent discipline that promised to save us from the interruption of digital advertising.

I delve more into the inauthenticity of 'authentic' Instagram advertisements in the latest edition of Influence, the Chartered Institute of Public Relation’s members’ magazine, out this week.

Scott Guthrie is a professional adviser within the influencer marketing industry. He is an event speaker, university guest lecturer, media commentator on influencer marketing and active blogger. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to achieve meaningful results from influencer marketing. That tells you something about him but it's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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