2023’s most bitter pandoro

Whilst it is admirable to support good causes, a little research and a lot of discernment go a long way in ensuring that our hard-earned cash really goes to the causes that pull at our heartstrings.

“Chiara Ferragni is the brand of sharing, happiness, positive values, and good vibes, both in real and digital universe. Chiara Ferragni women are international, dynamic, cool, modern, and strong.”

This is what the website belonging to an Italian woman by the name of Chiara Ferragni says. Despite this description, it was a good old pandoro that had Ferragni herself wading in hot water towards the end of 2023.

Ferragni-Balocco explained

Chiara Ferragni is an Italian fashion influencer and entrepreneur. Born in 1987 in Cremona, she gained widespread recognition through her fashion blog ‘The Blonde Salad’, which she started in 2009. The blog documented her personal style, fashion choices, and experiences, quickly becoming popular in the fashion blogging community.

Balocco is an Italian company that specialises in the production of baked goods, particularly traditional Italian Christmas cakes and sweets. Among the sweets it produces, you will find the Pandoro, which is a traditional Italian sweet bread, most popular around Christmas and New Year. The main difference between pandoro and panettone lies in the shape and decorative style: the pandoro has an eight-pointed shape and is presented in all its simplicity, covered with a dusting of icing sugar.

The case involving Chiara Ferragni and Balocco revolves around the advertising and promotion of a limited edition pandoro, ‘Pink Christmas’, designed by Ferragni. The controversy arose due to misleading information regarding the contribution of funds to a Turin hospital for cancer research and the purchase of a new car.

What was wrong with Ferragni’s pandoro?

The influencer’s advertising campaign led consumers to believe that, by purchasing the pandoro ‘Pink Christmas’ at a higher price (over 9 euros), they would contribute to a donation for cancer research and a new car for the hospital.

However, an investigation revealed that Balocco had already made a fixed-sum donation to the hospital in May 2022, several months before the launch of the initiative.

The companies managing Chiara Ferrangi’s brands and rights, along with Balocco, were accused of disseminating false information. This included a press release presenting the initiative, labels on the Ferragni-branded pandoros implying a contribution with each purchase, and social media posts by Chiara Ferragni herself, creating the false impression that buying the product would contribute to the announced donation.

Despite the campaign grossing over 1 million euros, it was revealed that Chiara Ferragni’s companies did not actually contribute to the solidarity cause that they were promoting.

In a video shared on Instagram, Ferragni issued an apology, acknowledging that it was her mistake, made in good faith. She claimed that her fault was to intertwine a commercial endeavour with a charitable one through her communications. She then stated her intention to donate €1 million to the the same Regina Margherita hospital in Turin.

Serious consequences

The Italian Antitrust Authority (AGCM) imposed a fine of one million euros in response to the misleading advertising practices. The fine is meant to reflect the seriousness of the violations and aims to discourage deceptive marketing tactics.

In addition to the antitrust fine, there were complaints from consumer protection organisations, such as Codacons, which accused Ferragni and Balocco of aggravated fraud against consumers. Codacons requested the intervention of the Financial Police, urging the seizure of the accounts of Ferragni’s companies to protect consumers who had purchased the designer pandoro.

The case highlights the importance of transparency in advertising and the potential legal consequences when misleading information is used to promote products.

Is it a lawless world for influencers?

Anyone with the ability to influence others through their online presence can be an influencer. This means that your next purchase might be shaped by whoever it is that you are following on your little screen. While online influencers were initially less regulated compared to traditional advertising channels, authorities are increasingly recognising the need to apply existing consumer protection and advertising regulations to the digital landscape.

According to the Directive 2000/31/EC on Electronic Commerce (Article 6) and the Directive (EU) 2018/1808 “Audiovisual Media Services”, influencers across Europe must disclose their commercial partnerships and specify the company on behalf of which the communication is being made. This is applicable in every EU Member State.

But despite the existence of the “Good Practice Guide on Online Advertising” released by the OECD in 2019 for consumer protection in e-commerce and the “communications code on advertising and marketing” by the International Chamber of Commerce, there is currently no specific European regulation governing influencer marketing.

To revamp digital business practices in the EU and enhance accountability and fairness online, two pieces of legislation have been enacted: the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act. Under the Digital Services Act, influencers, in their capacity as content creators, have increased responsibility for the content they share online.

As social media platforms are required to be more transparent about their content algorithms and monitor and remove posts if necessary – or even suspend accounts – influencers must also ensure that their content is appropriate, non-misleading, and legal.

In Malta, there is no specific legislation governing influencer marketing. The rules are the same as those that apply to advertising and marketing, namely the Unfair Commercial Practices Regulation (transposition of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive 2005/29/EC), incorporated in Part VIII of the Consumer Affairs Act.

What to consider

Despite all these laws, the truth of the matter lies in the fact that influencers are individuals whose content may not always reflect the entirety of their lives or the genuineness in their actions.

To approach influencer content with a discerning eye, it takes more than legal measures. In fact, you really need to be aware of the potential biases and motivations of what you are consuming.  And whilst it helps to engage with influencers who align with your values and preferences, this doesn’t mean that they won’t go rogue and start to promote products and ideals that do not serve you.

Influencers should be transparent about their content, including sponsored posts and partnerships. You should be able to recognise when influencers are promoting sponsored content. They should clearly disclose any partnerships or collaborations with brands, ensuring transparency about potential conflicts of interest.

Before you consider making a purchase, evaluate product recommendations and endorsements critically and consider whether the influencer genuinely uses and believes in the products they promote, or if it’s solely a paid promotion. Is the product really aligned with the general brand of that influencer? To be starker: does a mass produced pandoro really match with the high-end luxury feel that Ferragni constantly promotes?  

Search for negative track records. In the case of the pink pandoro case, Chiara Ferragni is said to have undertaken sponsorships resembling those with Pandoro Baloccoin 2021 and 2022, this time involving Easter eggs from Dolci Preziosi. Despite the communication indicating that the eggs would contribute to the “I Bambini delle Fate” charity project, reports suggest that the company’s donation amounted to 36 thousand euros over two years. In contrast, Ferragni purportedly garnered 1.2 million euros from the sale of her image.

The Pandoro takeaway

It’s no easy feat to regulate the internet and content that is thrown on it. Not only does the net transcend national borders, but the digital landscape evolves quickly. Developing regulations that cover such rapid transformation and such a diverse range of digital activities, while respecting freedom of expression, poses a significant challenge.

Now the Ferragni case is a bit of a double whammy because it involves an online influencer and a more traditional business, which is Balocco. In fact, the Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (AGCM) also fined the cake-makers €420,000.

What this means is that, as consumers, we really need to think once, twice, thrice before we indulge in consumerism and call it charity. Whilst there is no harm, and it is indeed admirable, to support good causes, a little research and a lot of discernment go a long way in ensuring that our hard-earned cash goes to the causes that pull at our heartstrings, and not to internet stars whose aim is to pull at your purse strings.

Main photo: Instagram

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