Brands have always sought to associate themselves with the most fashionable individuals of the day, be it simply to be seen in the right circles or to gather some kind of marketing stardust to sprinkle over their consumer base. However, the current iteration of influencer marketing through social media feels decidedly non-magical.
That it has reach is undeniable. Kylie Jenner, ranked the world’s top influencer, has over 163 million followers on Instagram, meaning the 1% engagement she gets per paid post is particularly lustrous for the brands which pay her thousands of dollars to share a photo of their latest product. There’s a good reason this business model is repeated around the world, and across all forms of social media.
But have these influencers become the victims of their own success? Increasingly, social media users are seeing through the veneer of paid endorsements, while they wade through the churn of media that gives these platforms such great exposure. There’s a strong sense that the flash-in-the-pan nature of influencer advertising will never get out of its fickle niche, in terms of both content and form. As one expert told the FT in December, the slightest tweak to an algorithm, or an adjustment to the follower gauge means you’re “only one change of service away from becoming irrelevant”.
In addition to this, influencer marketing inevitably errs on the side of caution; a practice that has made it less intelligent and less effective. The reactive nature of social media doesn’t reward complexity or even nuance. In fact, it tends to punish it. That is not a problem for the majority of retail marketing, which maintains a simple message but it does bring a degree of risk to the space. This was perfectly encapsulated by the infamous Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner, which sought to riff on the street protests that punctuated the news in 2017. The reasons for the protests were myriad and not solved or comprehended by a soft drink advert. By trying to mould a complex contemporary issue around a simple marketing message Pepsi compromised their brand, mis-valued their social media audience and missed the sensitivity mark by a mile.
Pepsi made an unwise call because they credited the fickleness of social media that is epitomised by influencer marketing. That fickleness is not what brands should be seeking; you want trust and dependability, not FOMO and the ‘like’ culture that instagram itself has recognised as a damaging variable when it comes to the mental health of its users. It was for this reason that the platform discussed hiding likes – a move that would have left the influencer machine running on fumes.
This precariousness highlights the real damage an over investment in influencer marketing can do. By simply hoping to grab the attention of followers for a split second by incongruously hijacking the feed of an influencer, you’re stifling your own creativity and the uniqueness of your brand.
Creativity is emboldening and it is in that knowledge that brands best use social media. All the best campaigns stretch the media to the message, not vice versa. Influencer marketing will always remain a quick win but fundamentally it is lazy. If your product is good enough and your brand creative enough, you won’t need to pay celebrities to endorse it, they’ll already be using it.