Influencers from shadow to light, from light to chiaroscuro?

Beautiful, charming and brilliant, in fact they are the new stars of the century, the successors to the princes of Hollywood. For several years, influencers have been the new pillars of advertising, but they have also been the “models” of the younger generation who see some of them as “self-made men”. While iconic stars pass through the back doors at the Cannes Film Festival to avoid fans, it is precisely these “accessible and famous” influencers who appear on beaches and in Riviera restaurants (the source of Terrace de Albania).

But who are these new web stars with notorious bravado? At first, there was nothing but some sarcasm from reality TV contestants, or occasional interest from a budding blogger. Then came the digital age, the advent of social networks, the guarantee of visibility, the dedication of the most famous bloggers, those whose content creates envy, those who influence. Influencer is born. Promotional flyers and flyers have given way to digital marketing, as companies have turned to promote their products and services to influencers, who are becoming more visible.

Economic operators similar to others

If the influencer does not benefit from its own legal definition, then it is presented nonetheless as a person active on the networks, benefiting from a community of individuals of several thousand subscribers. The issue of qualifying partnerships between influencers and brands poses more difficulties … Is it an employment contract? Or provide a service? In general, the first is retained if the influencer is subject to a subordination relationship, while the second is characterized by complete freedom in the exercise of his message. Whatever his qualifications, an influencer is an economic operator, like everyone else, a businessman who gives his image, an advertising professional.

Influencers should therefore respect their competitors as well as their partners, a recommendation that has been highlighted in highly respected ARPP publications. Defamation, breach of law or mores, intrusion and counterfeiting are all grounds for initiating a procedure for unfair competition.

Counterfeiting is, of course, the end result of some “headlines” who promote, without the complex “luxury copycats”, products that include the symbols of the most famous brands. There are other, more troubling cases in the news, such as these influencers approached by obscure English companies to discredit Pfizer’s vaccine against Covid.

Consumer vigilance

Until then, it’s nothing surprising or unprecedented for a professional to respect the rules of the marketplace, but what about consumers, those subscribers who make influencers glory? Matters are further complicated by consumer law and ARPP recommendations. In French law, the consumer is protected against misleading practices or those likely to mislead him, but case law remains shy in terms of influencers. However, it is not the scandals that are lacking as evidenced by the practice of dropshipping, the violations of which make up the body of practices that are considered abhorrent.

Quite legal in principle, dropshipping consists in removing a step from the sales chain by dispensing stock in order to order directly, at the request of the customer from the supplier. Incompatible products, well overdue delivery times, and the impossibility of confirming a right of withdrawal, there can be many scams of all kinds via this practice…but is the influencer to blame? A priori, only if he lies or misleads the consumer about the essential qualities of the product, or sets the prohibited price policy.

The issue of identifying partnerships also poses a major problem, even among the least junior influencers. In 2021, the DGCCRF sentenced the famous Nabila for deceptive business practices and paid a fine of 20,000 euros. But in the face of the vast amount of misguided practices that have not been brought to justice, it is legitimate to question whether this punishment was more typical than punitive.

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