Ethical Challenges in Influencer Marketing
Best Practice for Sponsors and Influencers
Influencers, and especially health care influencers have an incredible opportunity to advocate, educate, and inspire. However, as Winston Churchill said, “where there is great power, there is great responsibility”. The best influencers are authentic, knowledgeable, and responsible about the sponsors they choose to work with. Ethical challenges for influencers include choosing sponsors that align with their personal brand while disclosing who sponsors are. For the sponsoring company, challenges can include choosing reputable names in their field or area of expertise.
For example, FIGS Scrubs had a communications crisis when a 2020 campaign portrayed a female doctor of osteopathic medicine, or DO as a ditzy woman holding a, “Medical Terminology for Dummies” book upside down. Many influencers, both male and female in the medical community, spoke out against the ad and took the opportunity to advocate for equal respect for female physicians by sharing stories about working and learning from female attendings and professors. The backlash made FIGS realize the insulting nature of the campaign.
The FIGS ad is one example of an ethical dilemma that influencers, especially in the medical community experience. FIGS is a popular and fashionable scrubs brand that widely uses influencer marketing. With the power to influence, FIGS ambassadors could impact the viability and reputation of FIGS Scrubs with their choice to speak out or not. By speaking out, influencers could potentially risk losing sponsorship, but not speaking out could cause the loss of credibility among followers.
According to the Public Relations Society of America, disclosure is the best policy. This means that best practice for the sponsoring business using influencer marketing is to include clear brand guidelines on disclosure to influencers. For both the sponsoring company and the influencer, working with reputable names that are on brand will ensure authenticity for both parties, and will help ensure that ethical standards are met.
FIGS Scrubs has since made a public apology and discontinued the sexist ad. Since then, the company has gone public and earned an IPO. Congrats, Figs! Way to listen to and respect your customer.
In good health. MT
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