Influencer marketing fails - and how to avoid them
Influencer blunders are numerous - but marketers are still keen to use them. Noting some of the biggest fails, Vanessa Zard offers advertisers a guide to best practice
Now virtually inescapable, the influencer marketing business is experiencing huge growth, charting an upward trajectory steep enough to rival that of the learning curve brought with it.
The number of brand-sponsored influencer posts trebled globally between 2015 and 2017, while the industry is expected to double in size - from $3 billion in 2017 to $6.5 billion in 2019.
Plus, speaking to Mediatel earlier in March, Oliver Lewis, founder and managing director of influencer agency The Fifth, predicted that 25% of marketing budgets would be diverted by big brands towards influencer marketing in the UK over the course of the year.
However, as expected of any growing industry, influencer marketing has experienced huge teething problems - ranging from fake social media followers to failures adhering to marketing regulations.
As such, even Lewis admitted that there needs to be a “cleaning-up of the market” to combat existing challenges, including a lack of “professionalism, transparency and a lack of real measurement."
Need convincing? Here are five cringeworthy times influencers missed the mark over recent years:
1. Fake Followers
If there's one thing brands should remember in the influencer marketing business, it's that an influencer's social media following may not always be what it seems.
Take Amber Gill, who makes up one half of Love Island 2019's winning pair. Gill has raked in brand deals since leaving the villa, but according to research carried out by Takumi, 65% of her followers were fake on entry to the show.
At the other end of the scale, Gill’s castmate Maura Higgins entered the competition with the lowest percentage of fake followers - with only half of her 322,000 strong following fake.
2. Trouble with the ASA
Reality star Jemma Lucy, known for her role on the show Ex on the Beach, found herself in trouble with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for posting a weight loss supplements promotion on her Instagram, despite being pregnant at the time.
The ASA declared that the post both encouraged “unsafe practice” (the brand's website clearly states that the supplements should not be used during pregnancy) and was not properly identified as an advert. Although the star had not officially announced her pregnancy, the ASA highlighted that it was a matter covered broadly by the media, and the ad was therefore banned.
3. A Bad Fit
In the world of influencer blunders, the mismatched nature of Chriselle Lim’s partnership with Volvo may appear slight. Nevertheless, when the blogger - known for fashion and beauty - posted an image of her family in front of a Volvo followed by a lengthy caption promoting the brand, there was a large backlash.
With Lim facing criticism from her followers for the inauthentic brand deal, it's clear that consumers have a low tolerance for brands who do not choose appropriate influencers for their cause.
4. Promoting Scams
Following the launch of that famous Netflix documentary, the words ‘Fyre Festival’ are now synonymous with fraud. The festival’s creator, Billy Mcfarland, paid the likes of Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner to post about Fyre on their social media accounts.
In this case, the influencers involved failed to adhere to FTC sponsorship disclosure guidelines. Essentially, they took no visible steps to ensure that the event could deliver on what it promised its ticket holders.
Hadid went on to apologise to her fans, saying she had "trusted" the event would be "amazing and memorable". The substitution of gourmet meals and luxury villas for tents and cheese sandwiches went a long way to firmly cement the festival in memories, although they are unlikely to be looked on with the fondness Hadid envisioned.
5. A Proofreading Error
Naomi Campbell’s attempt to advertise Adidas shoes was sent awry when she awkwardly appeared to copy and paste an entire email from the marketing team directly into her Instagram caption.
The caption read: "Naomi, so nice to see you in good spirits!!! Could you put something like: Thanks to my friend @gary.aspden and all at adidas - loving these adidas 350 SPZL from the adidas Spezial range. @adidasoriginals”.
How can brands avoid these mistakes?
Despite these mishaps, influencers remain a valuable marketing tool when used in the correct way.
"Influencer marketing is one of few media sources where brands can engage meaningfully with hard-to-find 18-24 year olds," says Alexis Faulkner, head of FAST at Mindshare UK. According to a 2018 Fullscreen Report, 38% of consumers who follow influencers are more likely to believe them than traditionally delivered brand messages.
Acknowledging that influencer marketing isn’t without its pitfalls, Faulkner adds that brands and agencies need to ensure they are evaluating value carefully and delivering quality human interactions, as failing to do so can be damaging. One in four UK consumers aged 18-24 already believe "everything on Instagram is fake to some extent", according to the latest Mindshare Trends report.
"To mitigate against this risk, you need people who specialise in the industry and can focus on building out understanding and buying criteria and use third-party tools to validate metrics," she says, adding that Mindshare do most of their influencer buying through its specialist team, INCA.
Meanwhile, Sonika Phakey, digital marketing manager at boutique youth communications agency The Digital Fairy, says that with the industry still in its infancy in terms of regulation and infrastructure, it is important that brands and agencies carry out "thorough quantitative and qualitative background checks" on influencers before working with them.
For The Digital Fairy, that includes manually monitoring for suspicious spikes in followers or engagement over a period of time, and developing personal relationships with the influencers themselves.
“Ultimately, it's a small industry. As it develops even the smallest missteps can have big repercussions - both for brand and influencer alike," she says.
"Both parties should ensure they are being transparent and authentic in everything they do, always considering the (often vocal!) audience they’re targeting."
Brands must also acknowledge the difference between influencers and other paid social channels - "they aren't a programmatic solution."
By collaborating with influencers on a personal level, brands will be able to benefit from the authentic content and meaningful audience engagement that influencers excel at, she adds.
"If that’s not what you’re after, don’t use them!”
Vanessa Zard is a student at UCL and interned with Mediatel News in August 2019