Neelofa beauty backlash: Should the brand or influencer take the fall?

Malaysian actress and social media influencer Noor Neelofa Mohd Noor drew criticism on social media for promoting a beauty supplement targeted at both adults and infants named Chew N' Glow. In an Instagram Story that has since been removed, she claimed the product removes wrinkles and tightens the skin, and provided a recommended dosage for infants and children.

Neelofa has since apologised via Twitter, and was also called out by several medical practitioners who advised her to refrain from promoting health supplements to infants. A+M spoke to industry professionals on what they thought of this issue, and to what extent should influencers be used to promote health products.

Jamie Read, managing director, Sectors of Edelman Singapore, said that while influencers can be a valuable and trusted channel for people to learn about new consumer-available health products, certain regulations should be put in place to ensure that information is accurate and not making false or unsafe claims - just like with traditional publications.

He added that a lot of the risk can also be avoided by collaborating closely with them rather than merely viewing them as channels to propagate a message.

"By building understanding and belief in your brand, they can become true advocates and work with you to ensure their audience also understands the benefits and risks associated with health products," Read said.

Read is of the view that both companies and influencers are responsible when it comes to communications around health product. It is the responsibility of the company to act ethically and responsibly in their marketing, and to work with influencers to ensure they understand the product they are endorsing.

It is the responsibility of the company to act ethically and responsibly in their marketing.

Meanwhile, influencers have the responsibility to understand, scrutinise and believe in the products that they promote, since their personal brand is at stake and they have are accountable to their fans. Read added that influencers should also be disclosing up-front when it is a paid endorsement.

"But most importantly, it is the responsibility of the audience to think critically about what they read or hear, regardless of whether it comes from traditional media sources, influencers or friends," he said adding,

While the case of Neelofa is surprising because of the lack of logic behind promoting anti-aging beauty supplements for infants, it’s encouraging to see the community call her out on this specific post.

Meanwhile, David Lian, general manager, Zeno Group Malaysia, is of the view that influencers should never be used to promote health supplements. Pharmaceuticals and healthcare products are tightly regulated and have very strict advertising and promotions guidelines governed by the Medicine Advertising Board. In the case of pharmaceutical advertising, Lian said, doctors themselves are prohibited from endorsing products in promotional material. As such, he would expect the same regulations being applied to product claims. Hence, influencers should avoid making unsubstantiated claims altogether.

Influencers should avoid making unsubstantiated claims altogether.

Lian added that both the company and the influencer are equally responsible when it comes to promoting health supplements and should do their best to comply with strict regulations.