The Ethics of Influencer Advertising

Campaigns Skirt Political Ad Rules by Paying Influencers to Promote Them

Campaigns Skirt Political Ad Rules by Paying Influencers to Promote Them

The recent debate in Washington over the ethics of political ads in the wake of the Russia investigation has prompted a conversation about the role of the influencer-driven online ad market and whether the model can be scaled up.

While many argue that influencer campaigns are an effective means of raising awareness about a political issue, others say they are too expensive to be taken seriously.

That prompted the Campaigns & Elections Initiative of USC at USC Marshall School of Business to host a discussion of this phenomenon on campus last week. The discussion, attended by more than a dozen experts from across the political and influencer business, focused on how campaigns can be effective at influencing the decision-making process of the influencers they pay.

There were three interdependent elements at the discussion: the role of influencers and the online ad market, and whether they can be scaled up in practice.

The role of influencers

Part of the discussion touched on the relationship between influencers and campaigns.

“We cannot expect an influencer to do the exact same campaign or ad twice,” said Lisa Zannino, assistant professor in the USC Marshall School of Business’s Campaigns & Elections Initiative and co-author of the book Paying for Influence: The Political Economy of Influencer Marketing. “It’s an interesting question about what we would need to do to have people buy twice if they want to do a duplicate campaign. And it’s a fascinating question for people outside of this industry about what are the ethical and legal implications of using unpaid influencers who have already agreed to be used by a campaign.

“In theory, there are very few limitations on using influencers in campaigns. But most campaigns are pretty limited by their budgets,” she added.

It was one element of the discussion and it brought to mind the issue of the ethics in influencer advertising.

Sebastian Moore, a former political consulting advisor to Barack Obama who is now at the Campaigns & Elections Initiative, said that influencers are essentially in a new class of business.

“What is novel about influencer marketing is no one has

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