Influencer marketing is a misnomer, over-hyped and largely unproven
Marketers appear to be blindly shifting money into a channel riddled with problems, writes Graeme Douglas
The momentum behind influencer marketing has rocketed in recent years, with nearly two thirds of major global brands increasing their budget with social media influencers last year.
But my contention is influencer marketing has been over-hyped, is still largely unproven, and those brands sinking significant marketing budgets into tie-ups with the latest Instagram stars could be heading for a fall.
There is little doubt that influencer marketing is enjoying its moment in the sun: today’s marketers are dazzled by the influence of social media stars and the eye-watering size of the Gen Z audiences who follow them.
And there is no doubt the medium has recently grown up, addressing some of their problems threatening to derail it, after industry leaders called out nefarious practices like influencers buying fake followers and bot fraud.
However, influencer marketing still has its challenges, not least that marketers appear to be blindly shifting money into a largely unproven channel.
The name influencer marketing itself is a misnomer: the name implies either that other forms of marketing don’t generate influence or that influencer marketing generates more influence than social, content, SEO, print and other types of marketing.
The name influencer marketing is disrespectful to all others forms of marketing.
And let us not forget that social influencers are intrinsically inauthentic: the content they are creating isn’t earned but is just another form of paid advertising.
True influence-or positive recommendations-can only be achieved when not paid for.
As soon as a brand pays for influence, it becomes sponsorship, advertising or an endorsement.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it’s doing a subtly, but, importantly different job for the brand.
Yes, you might generate reach. Yes, you might generate awareness.
But the person delivering that message is simply a media channel delivering a message.
Self-defined influencers are as much an influencer as Channel 4 is an influencer when running an ad.
Furthermore, influencer marketing is largely unproven, despite improvements in measurement; it may improve soft metrics like engagement and raising awareness but not in driving conversion and sales.
That said, the fact that the likes of Unilever and L’Oréal continue to plough spend into the market mean it has its value to some brands.
Some brands will always want celebrity endorsements and in categories like beauty, influencers can and do shift products.
But amid an increasingly consumer savvy environment, too many brands continue to use influencers as an abrupt advertising channel: creating content like unboxing: asking creators to unpack products on their social media channel even if this is not in step with the content they usually create.
Consumers will scroll right past this kind of content, so brands should instead co-create organic content with the influencers to generate more meaningful results.
Influencer marketing might have established itself as part of the marketing mix, but it has been overhyped and still has many challenges and those brands using influencer as a crude advertising channel will become unstuck.
Graeme Douglas is strategy partner, Bountiful Cow