What Philip Morris’ Influencer Gaffe Can Teach Us about Responsible Storytelling

Influencers can be a powerful tool to craft and share stories
that endear customers to a brand. But what happens when that
influence isn’t used responsibly?

A recent gaffe by Philip Morris International
can be highly instructive for brands hoping to create strong and
responsible influencer relationships – and for Philip Morris’
US distributor Altria.

An Influencer Campaign, Suspended

A recent Reuters investigation
has resulted in the suspension
of PMI’s latest international influencer campaign, aiming to
promote its iOQS product. The reason? Underage influencers.

The tool, designed to utilize “heated tobacco” (versus
burned tobacco) is reportedly healthier and safer for its users.
However, a major caveat to the tool’s approval in the United
States was PMI’s word to the FDA, which “repeatedly assured the
regulators that it would warn young people away from the
product.” Part of that assurance included internal guidelines
that no influencers under the age of 25 could work on behalf of the
company. And in Reuters’ review of influencer accounts in Italy,
Japan, Romania, Russia, and Switzerland, they discovered accounts
affiliated with the brand whose owners were younger than that.

An International Brand, Embarrassed

In their statement announcing the suspension of the influencer
program, PMI acceded to the criticism levied by Reuters: “Whilst
the influencer in question is a legal age adult smoker, she is
under 25 and our guidance called for influencers to be 25+ years of
age. This was a clear breach of those guidelines.”
They admitted to PR Week
, “we are not proud that a mistake
was made, but what really matters is outcomes.”

As the company’s US distributor Altria prepares to deploy what
they call “a range of marketing, sales, and consumer engagement
approaches” to raise awareness of this new product, what should
they take away from this misstep?

How to Influence with Integrity

Influencer marketing works successfully when the individual’s
target audience aligns positively with the brand’s outcomes.
Age-restricted industries like alcohol, tobacco, and even some
medications, may struggle to realistically restrict reach on social
media—where age verification measures are far more challenging.
In these instances, targeted advertising may be a safer and more
tightly controlled bet. And in the event that influencers are the
strategy you choose to use, ensure there are
contractual measures in place
for if these individuals
misrepresent themselves.

In a larger sense, it’s important to anticipate pitfalls that
may come with innovative ideas. When speaking about iOQS’
impending release in the US, PMI CEO André Calantzopoulos
praised the company for evolving
in a world where tobacco
companies are quickly losing ground. He touted PMI’s efforts in
“essentially disrupting our business from the inside out. I
can’t think of any other business that has attempted such a
transformation before. Certainly no other tobacco company.”
Innovation can mean moving fast and breaking things, but how big
should we allow the things we break to be?

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ president Matthew Myers
managed to quantify the potential impact of this gaffe: 179 million
views of the hashtag #ioqs across Instagram and Twitter. Without a
way to determine the age of these viewers, how can PMI ensure that
they’re not reaching underage social users? Add to this the fact
13 states and over 450 localities have raised the smoking age from
18 to 21
, and the ability to incidentally reach an unintended
audience goes up considerably.

The bottom line in all this: influencer marketing requires far
more supervision and control than some realize. PMI realized this
fact the hard way, but your brand doesn’t have to. To do
influencer marketing well, brands and influencers need to think
critically about the message being shared and the potential
audience it will reach—and concede when influencer marketing
isn’t the best medium for your message. Doing otherwise violates
that responsibility that so matters when we try to tell stories
that matter.

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The post
What Philip Morris’ Influencer Gaffe Can Teach Us about
Responsible Storytelling
appeared first on Social Media Week.

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What Philip Morris’ Influencer Gaffe Can Teach Us about Responsible Storytelling