Over the past seven years, Tourism New Zealand has spent more than $7 million on social media influencers employed to attract visitors to Aotearoa.
Whether they’re YouTube stars or Hollywood A-listers, each influencer has an online following which allows the speedy dissemination of opinions and images to a wide target audience.
But the practice of using taxpayer dollars for government-funded influencer campaigns has prompted criticisms that such marketing is far from transparent, with return on investment (ROI) hard to measure and little follow-up opportunity following the initial blitz.
A recent taxpayer-funded influencer campaign across the ditch, which saw 40 social media personalities treated to an all-expenses-paid tour of the Kimberley in Western Australia, drew intense criticism from local operators.
One told AccomNews: “There was no direct or indirect communication with us about how we could integrate with and leverage off this event. This is pretty disappointing as marketing can be so much more effective when it is done collaboratively with the on-ground operators.”
The operator decried a lack of any call to action or mechanism to obtain potential visitor’s details for ongoing interaction, asking: “Is our marketing money really being used effectively and who is being held accountable for it?”
Tourism NZ’s Rebecca Ingram this week defended a recent $1 million spend on a seven-day NZ influencer trip by American actor Bryce Dallas Howard, saying there was an estimated 18-to-1 return on investment for the campaign and arguing a National Geographic team was hosted at the same time.
“We made videos, we made content that went on our website, we took beautiful photos of her time here and that formed the basis of our marketing activity in the US for more than a year,” Ingram told 1 NEWS.
“Ultimately, what we’re wanting to do is choose New Zealand for a holiday in an increasingly competitive world out there – for holiday makers, we want to make sure New Zealand’s top of mind.”
Asked if he saw influencer marketing as an appropriate use of taxpayer funds, Tourism Industry Aotearoa CEO Chris Roberts told AccomNews: “Absolutely.
“Influencers are a proven and extremely cost-effective way of attracting the attention of potential visitors to New Zealand.
“Marketers have always been aware of the power of celebrities to promote products, and the use of influencers is simply the modern version of this approach.
“Using an influencer can cost a fraction of traditional advertising and be far more effective.”
The Advertising Standards Authority stipulates that “it must be clear to the audience that they are engaging with an advertisement”.
Influencer advertising can blur those lines, Auckland University of Technology marketing lecturer Sommer Kapitan urging organisations like Tourism NZ to be careful about how they present campaigns.
“You should be indicating that this is an #ad or #sponsored or #spon,” she said. “If you include a brand or logo, you’re kind of covered,” she told 1 NEWS.
“There are clearly some question marks around if each piece of content has been clearly labelled to become an advertisement. I feel like we’re just entering the saloon of the wild west and in the saloon we’re trying to figure out if there’s rules before we have the shoot out.”