It’s fair to say it’s been a tricky 12 months in the world of influencer marketing. First there was Keith Weed’s speech at Cannes Lions in 2018, in which he claimed that the system was “broken” and called for urgent action to prevent brands against fraud. Then there was Netflix’s Fyre Festival documentary, which showed how badly things can turn out when influencers are paid to promote a product that fails to live up to the hype. Add to this a growing scepticism over the authenticity and value of paid-for posts and it’s little wonder the industry has come under scrutiny.
But perhaps things are starting to look up. “There’s a long way to go but we are seeing progress,” says Oliver Lewis, MD of influencer marketing agency The Fifth.
As Lewis points out, the growth of platforms such as Q83 (which allows brands to authenticate an influencer’s audience), plus stricter regulations around paid-for posts, have put greater pressure on influencers to act responsibly.
There’s definitely a sense now that everyone needs to be more accountable and professional
“There’s definitely a sense now that everyone needs to be more accountable and professional,” he explains. “[Influencers] are media companies now … and they have a responsibility not just to their audiences but to the brands they partner with.”
Fraud and a lack of transparency remain major issues for the industry, but Lewis believes influencers will have to be open and honest with brands and followers in future – or risk losing out on big campaigns. “There’s probably going to be a division of the type of talent that survives influencer marketing over the next few years – and the ones who are willing to act more professionally and comply with regulations are the ones who will succeed,” he explains.
If the industry is going to move forward, then Lewis also believes we need better education around best practice for influencers and access to tools and systems which allow brands to track the reach and engagement on paid-for posts (rather than relying on talent to provide data). At The Fifth, influencers are required to share their data with brands via Q83, and the agency has also been providing legal advice to talent on ASA and CMA guidelines around sponsored posts.
adam&eve’s collaboration with influencer Chessie King offered an innovative approach to working with digital talent
The industry has so far focused largely on scale, with brands basing the value of partnerships on the size of someone’s following, but the events of the past 18 months have highlighted the numerous flaws in this approach.
So what does this all mean for the future of partnerships? As the industry evolves, Lewis thinks brands will also have to find more meaningful and creative ways of working with talent. Most influencer marketing is still based around asking an influencer to promote a specific product on their channels, but the success of Nike’s Colin Kaepernick and Dream Crazier ads have shown the power of working with talent to promote a wider message. Likewise adam&eve’s work with Chessie King for Cybersmile (which used Instagram Stories to call out trolls) highlighted the value in working collaboratively with influencers and using digital platforms in unexpected ways.
Fashion retailer Missguided has been promoting body confidence through its In Your Own Skin campaign, which features six influencers with skin conditions including scarring and albinism. The campaign tapped into a growing trend – the rise of body-positive influencers who are using Instagram to challenge narrow beauty ideals – and built on Missguided’s previous campaign, Make Your Mark, which featured un-retouched images of models, activists and bloggers.
“[Missguided] picked up on a trend and worked with talent to tell important stories. It benefitted the brand and talent because there was a mutual relationship there and there was a message beyond just trying to sell clothes. That’s where influencer marketing becomes powerful – if you can find those community leaders,” adds Lewis.
Dating app Tinder’s recent #singlenotsorry campaign, created by agency Wieden + Kennedy, saw influencers featured on outdoor and digital ads, showing how brands can work with talent to create campaigns that extend beyond social media.
“I think that’s an example of where the industry is going,” adds Lewis. “If you get the right influencer, then marketing doesn’t have to live on social – it can become the anchor point for a multimedia campaign.”
As Lewis points out, the influencers featured in the campaign (Florence Given, Hannah Louise F, Eman Kellam and Magnus Ronning) might not be as well-known as mainstream TV personalities, but they represented the kind of outlook and lifestyle that Tinder wanted to celebrate in its ads. By focusing on finding the right talent, rather than recruiting the biggest names, Tinder was able to create a campaign with a much wider reach (and a longer shelf life) than a traditional partnership that lives exclusively on digital platforms – and Lewis believes it’s a strategy other brands could learn from.
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“When we plan influencer marketing now, we don’t think about reach and scale – we think, who’s got the right story? Who is the right and authentic fit for that story? And whose audience will it resonate with most?” he adds.
The industry still has its problems, but perhaps we have reached a turning point, with brands and talent moving towards a better way of working. “What clients really want is to work with talent and build advocacy over time,” says Lewis. “I think the emphasis is moving back towards creativity and looking for talent to help tell brand stories. That’s way more authentic for an audience, and it’s more believable [because] you don’t see talent jumping from brand to brand.”
If brands can be more selective about who they work with – and work with talent on a longer-term basis – then Lewis believes influencer partnerships could become a valuable marketing tool, rather than a quick-fix to boost sales.
“It’s very easy to use influencers as advertising to drive sales [for example, through paid-for posts endorsing a particular product] but actually, what you really want to do is use it as an advocacy vehicle – and that requires better creative, more consistency and longer-term planning,” he adds.
The Fifth is an influencer marketing agency with a mission to professionalise the industry; fifth.co