Influencer marketing has turned into a billion-dollar industry with the help of Instagram-stars. Today, brands are ready to pay vast amounts of money for the opportunity to show their products to a live audience on this platform, and on the basis of this trend, there is already a primitive but working subtype of advertising fraud. American agency Mediakix, which specializes in marketing influences, conducted an experiment to demonstrate how easy it is to create a fake “celebrity” Instagram and then to lure millions out of brands.
Mediakix specialists created two fake Instagram accounts: the first as a lifestyle and fashion blogger, and the second – a travel photographer. For the first account (calibeachgirl310), Mediakix hired a model and introduced her as a girl from Santa Monica, daily posting pictures of bows.
Taking the scenic route
Working with the second account dedicated to Amanda Smith (wanderingggirl), marketers went even further and published merely material from free stock photos: pictures of the Eiffel Tower and any other picturesque places they could find, alternated with photographs of random blondes from the back so that the face could not be seen.
After “Instagram-celebrities” were fabricated, Mediakix started the purchase of followers. Instagram is able to mark accounts suspected of dishonest game, so marketers decided to buy no more than 1,000 followers a day – in order not to get caught. “However, we quickly found that we were able to buy up to 15,000 followers at a time without encountering any issues.”
At the same time, the cost of 1000 subs was $3-8. For two months, marketers have gathered a base of 30,000 and 50,000 followers, respectively for both accounts.
Of course, it’s awesome to have such a fan-base, but it makes no sense if they are not involved in the content. Mediakix paid about 12 cents per comment and $ 4-9 per thousand likes. Each photo was bought from 500 to 2500 likes and 10-50 comments. Mostly these were prosaic remarks from the category of “good work” or “nice pic”!
After reaching 10k people mark (the threshold amount for signing up on most influencer marketing platforms). “Once we hit this threshold, we were able to sign the accounts up for a wide range of platforms.”
The company spent about a thousand dollars. Results were predictable: “We secured four paid brand deals total, two for each account. The fashion account secured one deal with a swimsuit company and one with a national food and beverage company.”
“The travel account secured brand deals with an alcohol brand and the same national food and beverage company. For each campaign, the “influencers” were offered monetary compensation, free product, or both.”
At the end, all advertisers were reimbursed in the form of cash compensation or services. However, the results of the experiment are worrying: brands are ready to spend huge money on advertising in accounts that do not even have a real audience.
As for the Mediakix, their conclusion was so: “Instagrammers with completely or partially fake followings and/or engagement present advertisers with a unique form of ad fraud that’s becoming more and more commonplace and could be siphoning tens of millions of dollars from brands.”