Viral Visionaries

Viral Visionaries: What went wrong with Scarlett London's Listerine campaign?

Viral Visionaries: What went wrong with Scarlett London's Listerine campaign?

The influencer marketing world fell under scrutiny last week, this time in the form of a Listerine campaign.

Scarlett Dixon, known as Scarlett London online, posted a seemingly harmless photograph of herself to her Instagram account. The post in question was part of an influencer marketing campaign in collaboration with the dental giant.

Dixon's post was inoffensive, it featured herself sat in a decorated bedroom, having a cuppa and enjoying some pancakes.

However, her particular style of promotion attracted criticism online, with Twitter users calling Instagram a "ridiculous lie factory".

Marketing has always had an element of unrealism, but how much "fake" is too much? We asked our panel of industy experts whether the backlash was warranted or not, and what Scarlett London could have done to avoid it.

Chris Landa Founder Transparent Influence

I found the reaction to Scarlett London's post by the influencer marketing community to be a bit hypocritical to be honest. Posts like these are seen everyday, but in this case people feigned outrage and started jumping a bandwagon.

With better practices around identifying and vetting influencers, I doubt this would have been posted
Chris Landa

What went wrong wasn't just on her side, but was on Listerine's. With better practices around identifying and vetting influencers, as well as approvals, I doubt this would have been posted.

When it comes to working with "micro-influencers", the inexperience of that type of influencer can create poor content that lacks authenticity. They look at larger influencers, what they often do, and try to make it their own without the experience to know what is in good taste.

For influencers, the "story" of the post needs to real and relatable to their audience, even if it’s embellished. For digital first creators, it's important to remember that fans follow a person, not a celebrity. While the line can be blurry, it's important to remember as it prevents situations like this.

At the end of the day, the best influencer marketing campaigns show how a product either solves a problem for the influencer or is something that excites them. This campaign did neither with a poorly chosen influencer.

Heini Vesander CMO Matchmade

This is an interesting question as paid influencer posts aren't a novelty, and Scarlett London's post isn't all that over-the-top to be honest.

I think the root cause for the (over)reaction of the online community is how inauthentic the post feels - and how Listerine's product placement is not in any way related to the content of the post. Good influencer marketing feels authentic - the sponsored product matches the posted content, and the influencer's audience.

I think Dave Parkinson's tweet is on point - this feels like a mock campaign because the product just doesn't match the post. Also, consumers are increasingly fed up with ads everywhere online (30 per cent of US consumers use ad blockers on their connected devices), and this reaction is in line with this trend.

What can we all learn? Make it clear that a post is sponsored. Make sure your product is relevant to the sponsored post. Make sure the sponsored influencer's fanbase matches your target audience.

Mark Wright CRO Influencer

Yes, it’s pretty cheesy and has an air of self-indulgence. Given that the various posts from different creators hired for this campaign are extremely similar in style, isn’t this the fault of the advertiser or agency and their brief rather than the influencer that followed it?

There are many posts from many creators in our industry like this. Influencer sees briefs come in like this daily. Is it really any different in traditional media? Is everything produced by creative agencies for advertisers on say TV any less cringeworthy? How many times have we viewed a TV ad and gone, “Jesus who writes this sh*t?”

I wonder how much abuse some of our TV, radio or press ads would receive if there was a direct message facility attached to the ads themselves? Quite a bit over the years I feel. So, do we attach the old adage of ‘all publicity is good publicity’ to this? Perhaps. After all, what the client has clearly sought through this ad is engagement and that has definitely been attained.

Phil Ranta Head of Creators Mobcrush

Look less at the balloons and strawberries and more at how the anonymity of the internet has created a toxic subculture.
Phil Ranta

I don't see this as an issue with looking disingenuous in sponsored posts. I've never seen a sponsored Instagram post that felt genuine. The moment I see the FTC-regulated #sponsored hashtag, I'm looking at the content as an idealised version of reality made to sell me a product.

This is a story about internet hate mobs. There is a large portion of the internet-commenting public that spend an inordinate amount of time finding people online that they perceive as the embodiment of something they deeply dislike, then do everything they can to take away their power.

It starts with shade, it ends with death threats (or on rare occasions actual violence). If we want to really dive into what's wrong with this campaign, I would look less at the balloons and strawberries and more on how the anonymity of the internet has created a toxic subculture that's both radicalised and normalised.


Danielle Partis is editor of and former editor of She was named Journalist of the Year at the MCV Women in Games Awards 2019, as well as in the MCV 30 under 30 2020. Prior to Steel Media, she wrote about music and games at Team Rock.