Should Wellness Influencers Take Ad Money from Fast Food Joints?

Let's talk about #ads.

influencers with starbucks ice tea
Image via Instagram/starbucks

You could argue that influencers are the new movie stars.

Thanks to platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, we can stalk our favorite influencers’ every move. See every smoothie bowl they eat. Listen to them talk, unscripted, about what’s happening in their lives. It’s like reading about what’s in your favorite celeb’s bag in People magazine, but WAY better.

For broadcasting their every move online, successful influencers can make quite a bit of money by partnering with brands to promote products. There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding exactly how these influencers make it clear to viewers that they’ve been paid to post about a product, store, or course. For example, if a brand sends an influencer free clothes, do they need to mention the hashtag #ad if they post about the outfit? Some influencers even try to hide the fact that they’re making big bucks off of partnerships by burying the mandatory #ad hashtag within their picture comment … which is pretty shady and certainly misleading for fans.

And while we understand that influencers need to bring home the bacon, we wonder if certain groups of Instagram stars shouldn’t be more discerning about who they choose to partner with. In the wellness world, this can get particularly tricky. If an influencer promotes themselves as someone who’s a knowledgeable source of information about nutrition, health, and wellness, they automatically have almost an expert-level credibility amongst their followers—regardless of whether they truly have the education and experience to be called an “expert” on a certain topic. So when that influencer recommends a certain type of collagen, or protein powder, or work out, their followers likely consider that expert advice. After all, if someone has 100k followers on their vegan food Instagram account, they’ve got to know something about nutrition, right??? (Not necessarily, guys …)

It’s one thing when an Instagram star suggests trying a new type of kombucha. But what if your favorite digital wellness “expert” condoned eating items off of a fast food restaurant menu? Nicole Cogan, known for her gluten-free @nobread Instagram page with over 137k followers, recently posted an ad for McDonald’s McCafe Frappes. For an influencer who usually posts about salads, gluten-free trail mix, and smoothie bowls, the boomerang of her drinking a glorified milkshake was off-putting for many readers. Some argued that partnering with a notably unhealthy brand like McDonald’s wasn’t in alignment with Cogan’s online persona, while others defended her choice. After all, even though it’s loaded with dairy, sugar, and artificial flavors, it’s still technically gluten free.

And when matcha-making wellness influencer Lee Tilghman posted an ad for Starbucks’ new Teavana Iced Tea infusions, fans were a little confused. Although most of the negative comments have been deleted, there are still a few questioning comments posted by readers left on the photo.

They add artificial flavoring to some of their teas and their teas were tested and found to contain many pesticides, one of which is known as endosulfan, which has been linked to fertility issues and birth defects. 😕

Nothing is sacred anymore #ad

Ugh! Almost all their teas and coffee are not organic though 😕 which means their tea is covered in pesticides too. Do they have an option for organic??

Although Starbucks’ iced teas can be ordered unsweetened, the beverage as listed on the company’s website has a whopping 11 grams of cane sugar in a grande size. Not necessarily the worst choice on Starbucks’ menu, but certainly a far cry from the low-sugar, all-natural, DIY life that Tilghman preaches about on her platform.

So, do influencers have a responsibility to stay authentic to their “mission” and turn down opportunities from bigger brands (who usually offer more money) when they’re not aligned? Or are followers expected to be savvy enough to know that these influencers need to make money where they can?