Brands continue to hire mega influencers who openly ignore social-distancing guidelines. But some creators without millions of followers aren't so fortunate.

  • Some of the internet's biggest stars have ignored some COVID-19 health guidelines in recent months, attending massive parties without masks, traveling internationally, and in one instance, being publicly admonished by the city of Los Angeles for allegedly violating its "Safer LA" order and "Party House Ordinance."
  • Many brands have continued to pay these creators to promote their products.
  • But not all influencers are immune to backlash, and some with smaller followings, like blogger Naomi Davis who left New York City for a cross-country road trip during the pandemic, have lost brand deals and other business opportunities. 
  • Business Insider spoke with marketers and industry experts to better understand why some influencers have faced repercussions for flouting COVID-19 health guidelines while others appear to be untouchable.
  • Subscribe to Business Insider's influencer newsletter: Insider Influencers.

On August 28, 19-year-old TikTok star Blake Gray was charged with a misdemeanor alongside fellow creator Bryce Hall after throwing a massive party that Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer alleged violated the county's COVID-19 guidelines, including its "Safer LA" order and "Party House Ordinance."

"We allege these hosts have been incredibly irresponsible, with a highly infectious disease spreading and parties banned because of it," Feuer said. 

While Gray's decision to throw a party during a pandemic could have scared off some risk-averse brands that generally look to avoid controversy, other big brands are still working with him.

Two days after the city attorney's charge, Gray posted a promotional video on TikTok for the fashion and cosmetics retailer Asos. And a little over a week later, Nabisco paid Gray to promote its Nutter Butter cookies on TikTok, with the brand cheekily pretending to flirt with Gray in the video's comments section. 

A representative for Gray declined to comment for this story. Neither Asos nor Mondelez, which owns Nabisco, responded to a request for comment from Business Insider.

While many brands spent the first few months of the pandemic treading softly on social media out of fear of appearing tone deaf during a public health crisis, they've often been less cautious when it comes to working with influencers who have ignored some health guidelines designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Many companies have continued to pay creators to promote their products even as these influencers have attended large gatherings, traveled, and appeared in public without masks.

Why is that?

Influencer industry insiders said one potential reason is that dropping a mega influencer or celeb could provoke a bigger problem than any backlash would, especially as many have millions of loyal fans and are repped by high-powered Hollywood agencies and management firms. That would help explain why some influencers with smaller follower counts have been quietly dropped by brands, while superstars have seemed more insulated from consequences.

Another potential reason is that some brands could see social-distancing guidelines as political.

"I don't believe that the corporate communications teams at these large enterprise companies have a particular position or stance," said an influencer marketer, who asked to speak anonymously to avoid potentially damaging relationships with clients. "On mask wearing, because it has been politicized, I think that they're trying to stay out of it."

A third potential reason is simply that the landscape is moving quickly and brands have not yet adapted a firm policy.

"I'm sure there's a brand bible out there for Nutter Butter that's incredibly specific," said another influencer marketer, who asked to speak anonymously for the same reason. "I wonder if they've even had time to update their brand guidelines when it comes to TikTok talent in the world of COVID."

While getting a misdemeanor charge for allegedly violating LA's "Party House Ordinance," or traveling to Mexico at a time when non-essential travel is discouraged (as was the case in June when a new creator group Clubhouse Explore went on a 26-person trip to Tulum) are on the far end of the spectrum in terms of flouting health precautions, there have been less severe transgressions by many of the internet's biggest creators in recent weeks.

Digital stars like and Charli and Dixie D'Amelio, Emma Chamberlain, and James Charles were all spotted in attendance at a large party hosted by the TikTok group The Hype House in July, for example. (Charles later apologized for attending the party, saying in a statement in a YouTube video that "going to a party during a pandemic was a selfish and stupid decision.")

None of these creators appeared to face major backlash from brands for attending the party. The D'Amelios moved forward with the launch of their new Morphe makeup line in late July, and Charli recently got a drink named after her as part of a new brand partnership with Dunkin'.

"As a brand, the health and safety of our employees, franchisees, and their crew members has been and remains a top priority," Dunkin' said in a statement when asked about Charli's attendance at a large gathering. "In all stores, and during any in-person engagements with Charli D'Amelio or other influencers, we take steps to help ensure the safety and well-being of guests and restaurant employees."

Morphe did not respond to a request for comment.

Some influencers — who don't have millions of followers — have had brand deals terminated

While many of the internet's biggest stars haven't appeared to face brand backlash, some smaller-follower-count influencers haven't been as lucky.

These micro and macro influencers are more reliant on sponsored posts to earn a living, and therefore, have to be more careful when it comes to adhering to public health guidelines, marketers told Business Insider. 

In a July survey of 422 US-based influencers by the influencer-marketing platform Mavrck, 93% of respondents said they were "taking precautions to follow CDC health guidelines related to COVID-19, such as social distancing, avoiding close contact, wearing a cloth face covering when around others, etc."

Blogger Naomi Davis (453,000 Instagram followers) who left New York City for a cross-country road trip during the pandemic (a departure from CDC recommendations), lost brand deals and other business opportunities as a response to negative commenters unhappy with her decision, BuzzFeed reported. 

For instance, Davis posted a sponsorship for the vitamin startup Ritual in May and immediately after, commenters began to leave negative messages on her post, which she later took down. Ritual ended its partnership with her, BuzzFeed reported. 

Davis did not respond to a request for further comment from Business Insider.

Another influencer with under one million followers had taken a road trip with her children and posted about it on Instagram, her manager told Business Insider. In her content, she had spoken about the safety measures she and her family were taking while traveling, but when one brand caught wind of this, it canceled a year-long ambassadorship with her, according to the manager, who requested anonymity to speak more freely about the situation.

To do so, the brand used the "morality clause" that was in their agreed contract, the manager said. A morality clause is often added into contracts to protect the brand from bad publicity associated with a talent they've partnered with. Often, this is a precaution taken in case there is any illegal behavior.

In June, the manager of the influencer group Clubhouse said that the fitness-beverage brand Celsius decided not to renew a contract with Clubhouse member Mariana Morais (829,000 Instagram followers) after the group's trip to Mexico. At the time, the company confirmed it wasn't renewing a contract with Morais, but said there were "other reasons that factored into our decision."

Social-media users are paying close attention to partying influencers, even when brands are looking the other way

While many brands may not be monitoring the day-to-day activities of influencers who are flouting social-distancing guidelines, some social-media users have been. 

Some commentary accounts like Def Noodles (440,000 YouTube subscribers) and TikTok Room (1.6 million Instagram followers) have been tracking influencers ignoring health guidelines and hanging out in large gatherings. Fans have commented things like "it's not that hard to stay home" and "someone take away their platforms please" on these posts. 

Claire Lungwitz, a college junior who has been taking classes remotely during the pandemic, created an account on TikTok in July, @ImmuneInfluencers, specifically to draw attention to videos posted by influencers who aren't following some COVID-19 health precautions.

"FUN FACT: 50k+ followers comes with COVID-19 immunity," she wrote in the bio for her account, which has around 6,400 followers. 

Lungwitz has uploaded reaction videos to posts featuring influencers like Blake Gray, Addison Rae Easterling, Larri Merritt (known as Larray), and Bryce Hall. 

"I thought something was off about their content and then I kind of realized it just looked like the pandemic never happened and they're kind of in a COVID-free bubble," she said. "These people were still traveling, and hanging out with different groups of friends, and throwing parties. Things I hadn't thought about doing since February."

"My goal would be ultimately for these influencers to recognize their platform and their impact on how children especially view the pandemic," Lungwitz said. "Influencers do have the best job to do from home. A lot of them get famous just from making videos in their bedrooms, so I don't know why they can't really continue to do that now."

For more stories like this, subscribe to Business Insider's influencer newsletter: Insider Influencers, and check out the below posts:

  • Beverly Hills says it's 'investigating' the TikTok influencer mansion Clubhouse: Clubhouse, cofounded by TikTok star Daisy Keech (6.1 million followers), is among several popular influencer collab houses in LA.
  • 'Use that influence to save lives': LA health officials want influencers to be social-distancing role models and stop living a dangerous, mask-free fantasy: Many influencers aren't following social-distancing recommendations, as trips and parties resume. LA health officials want them to reconsider.
  • A TikTok influencer group launched a new 'travel house' with a 26-person trip to Mexico in spite of the pandemic: Influencer group Clubhouse traveled to Mexico to launch Clubhouse Explore and now they are eyeing Iceland and Bali.
  • Healthcare has been the most efficient category for Instagram influencer marketing during the pandemic. Here are the other top performers.: New data reveals that healthcare has the highest influencer marketing efficiency across industries since the pandemic. Airlines have the lowest.
  • How the coronavirus is changing the influencer business, according to marketers and top creators on Instagram and YouTube: Business Insider spoke with influencer-marketing professionals across the industry to learn how they're adjusting during the coronavirus pandemic.

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