Power of the Influencer
In 1990’s hundreds if not thousands, true statistic unknown, of women walked into their hairdressers and asked for ‘a Rachel’. 2019 not 1995 it would likely have been a trending hashtag within, and for, a day. Sufficed to say at the pinnacle of friends fever the most popular hairstyle in the land was Jennifer Aniston’s famous barnet. It can be seen as one of the biggest early viral phenomena, long before the widespread uptake of the internet and without a gif in sight. It also is one of the earliest and biggest displays of celebrity shadowing, the subtle art of copying things someone famous does, other great examples being things such as the way princesses dress or which boots footballers wear. While poor Jennifer was an innocent tend-setter these latter two are more blatant advertisements. Frequently famous women will be supplied with their dresses for free by aspirational or in many cases established designers under the proviso they are credited when they are inevitably asked ‘who are you wearing?’. Football as a sport is a highly charged hotbed of sponsorship and advertised activity their shoes are no different, often big money footballers will associate with only one brand of sportswear, with it becoming their uniform on most visible occasions, in return for a lot of fiscal advantage of course. So, endorsement has been around about as long as the very concept of celebrity, what does that mean in 2019? It means the same thing it has always done … but more!
The rise of internet has effectively meant almost anyone, with the will and wits to match, though some only need the lack of wit to be entertaining, can become a ‘pseudo-celebrity’. I put pseudo-celebrity in inverted comas there because the amount of reach most of these people have is likely to even out strip the amount of people someone would meet in their lifetime a mere century ago, the concept of celebrity has moved on a lot even in the last 30 years. In this era then how is celebrity endorsement handled, simply put in the same way it always has been, lots of celebrities are offered the chance to advertise big expensive things with recompense for tv adverts, magazine shoots and being a ‘brand ambassador’ in their everyday lives, more on this later. The interest comes with these pseudo-celebs and their role. Now they may ‘only’ have an audience of a few tens of thousands, maybe even a few hundred thousand, fans however, generally they come at a much lower cost than those people tens of millions have heard of. Hence the role of Influencer is born.
In simple terms an influencer is anyone who has an online presence that a company may consider to hold sway over an interesting demographic or audience and hence could be a useful way of marketing. The key notes to understand about the practice of Influencer marketing are these, it is not a fool proof method of engaging anyone and the laws governing it are not as concise or clear as those around celebrity endorsement, just because its true for Messi doesn’t make it clean for your Influencer.
Some of the most notorious influencer channels, in fact almost all influencer channels are centred around social media. The biggest channels are currently Instagram and YouTube by quite a large margin, though this shouldn’t be expected to continue forever, maybe as little as 7 years ago it’s likely Facebook would be running a much closer race and numbers of YouTube users has diminished recently, dropping in line with the rise of streaming services like Twitch. What do these influencers do? Essentially influencers are generally allowed a lot more freedom over their product endorsements than old-school celebrities. Often influencers have their own ways of using their social media channels and its frequently shown that using an influencer to market should be fit seamlessly into their normal schedule. The modern world of online celebrity, though it may not seem it is a hotbed of routine and order, no red-carpet appearances or press conferences but the pressure of constant and regimented content creation is a lot more work than wearing particular clothes to your day job.
So, what makes for a good Influencer marketing campaign. Let’s take a look at a few of the pros and cons of using an Influencer to market your product or increase brand awareness.
Why not go straight to the big one, costs. As previously mentioned, when comparing the relative cost of celebrity endorsement and influencer marketing its very easy to focus on the fact influencers are generally much cheaper and less demanding. It shouldn’t be neglected that most of those over 25 were born to an existence where the internet did not dominate all things and almost all influencers parents likely held ‘normal’ jobs. They weren’t sent to stage schools or born to aristocracy many of them are very happy to be making money in some way other than serving drinks, fixing pipes or answering phones all day and as such have a greater appreciation for financial recompense. On the other side of the argument is the looming reality that in 2019 hiring an influencer is not the inexpensive task it was in 2015 or earlier, more companies are jumping onboard and with demand comes a rise in prices. Alongside this general rise it should be considered that the costs associated with an influencer marketing plan can outstrip those of classic periodic advertising campaigns as it is often effectively hiring an employee, maybe only for a month, but that is a continuous month of oversight and pay rather than a discreet cost of a stable message as an advert.
Second let’s consider the idea of popularity. The nature of influencer marketing trades its usefulness in essence on popularity. This is of course true of celebrity in a general sense, however, influencers, being for the most part regular people means they are under a more continuous scrutiny than most celebrities. Their every post and mention are scrutinised by their (and other peoples!) followers in essence as soon as it is put into the online environment. This can be both a blessing and a curse. It creates instantaneous fervour, the influencer you are employing for peanuts just had a post on the front-page of this week’s hottest platform, they grew their audience 3-fold within 2 days while promoting your product! Or maybe your influencer just had a genius insight about why we call them chicken breasts … and a mob of feminist vegans shut their twitter feed down with bilious comments within a few hours, it cuts both ways. Often, it’s best to back the favourite horse, the safe bet, maybe it won’t make you a millionaire in one race but it’s better to win a tenner consistently than fall at the first fence.
Finally, it’s worth considering the value of specificity. Many times, the most vaunted aspect of a celebrity endorsement is the fact people want to follow a trend their celebrity is involved with, a subconscious yearning to be part of the culture. However, this may not be the biggest benefit to the business. The biggest benefit is likely that this form of advertising has for a long time been the most specific form of targeting outside of posters in your own shop window. Celebrities of all shapes and sizes are actively sought out by the potential marketee just by the celeb going about their lives making movies or playing sports, zero effort on the part of an agency with a target audience almost wanting to see the advert, it’s the dream! Applying this to the Influence, they make their own content, effectively marketing themselves and their audience is an already made target market susceptible to the opinions of the advertiser and hence more likely to buy or remember the brand. Of course, this does throw up its own problems. For a truly great marketing campaign the audience needs to be accurately profiled to make sure they are the right fit for the product as well as to make sure they’re real! What with the power of this sort of marketing there now exists a lot of companies available to create false audiences for social media users. On top of this in recent months there has been a rise in and subsequent crack down on Influencers marketing potentially harmful substances and practices to children, something becoming an increasing problem with the easy availability of Influencers to an unfiltered public.
Sufficed to say influencer marketing is only set to grow in 2019 with over 60% of marketers questioned in a recent survey suggesting they will be spending more on this strategy during the year. As with celebrity associations and traditional advertising strategy Influencer marketing needs to be treated with a certain amount of reverence. Just as there has been a tonal shift in most other forms of advertising the facts being uncovered in this forms infancy suggest the things that work best are open and unambiguous endorsements coupled with proven usage. So going forward influencing or marketing make sure you’re honest and clear however you get it done and you can’t go wrong.