The Good, the Ugly & the Bad

Influencer marketing needs some control. Where do you stand on 'subtle selling'?
The Good, the Ugly & the Bad

Definition: “identifying individuals that have influence over potential buyers, and orienting marketing activities around these influencers” (Wikipedia). From my experience, it’s marketers jumping on a viral bandwagon. But with influencer followings in the thousands, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands, the question is ‘who can blame them?’. It’s all about staying relevant and recognised around the clock.

The Good

An advert in the newspaper or on the TV had minimal opportunity for visibility. Although social media ads now offer greater chance of being seen anytime of the day, audience attention on these platforms can be lackluster. The concept of using a YouTube influencer for example is that within a short video, viewers keep updated with their entertainers and still get a promotional message either before, after or even during the video.

Here’s two influencer marketing success stories I have recently shared: on LinkedIn and on Twitter. As you can tell from these posts, I was sceptical of its approach whereby brands subtly sell to you simply while you watch a video online of someone who interests you. I have almost been won round however especially after seeing these figures.

Am I allowed to change the order a little? Great, thanks: The Ugly

Do you remember the 2009 film ‘The Joneses’? It was based on a ‘family’ moving to a new US suburban neighbourhood with the objective of subconsciously selling not only the products and services they used on a daily basis but ultimately the lifestyle they enjoyed. It was perhaps my earliest understanding of the potential power of influencer marketing after watching the film at college four or five years ago. Eventually after attempting to keep pace with the revolutionary technology overtly used by the father of the family and the rapidly changing fashionable handbags and clothes flaunted by ‘Mrs Jones’, the family’s neighbours drove themselves not only into vast debt but also into states of depression.

This is perhaps the Hollywood extreme of the implications influencer marketing can have on those who do succumb its enchanting spell. Its potential as a sales approach is however well visualised here though. The film’s message is that within modern society there is an unspoken rule that states ‘for one to be seen to be successful one must buy the best things and encounter the greatest experiences, and not only have these but ‘flash’ them to others to prove one's wealth’.

The Bad

With data and customer analytics at the heart of marketing, I would question the motives of large commercial brands that choose to use this customer understanding to exploit consumers. Paying celebrities or any form of influencer to ‘push product’ on screen or in the media seems a fairly underhand way of reaching an (often young and impressionable) audience. This may not be a new concern, with actors and singers for example selling dresses and suits by simply wearing them on the red carpet but this form of soft selling almost seems intrusive to me. As the name indicates, influencing customer decisions may seem like an ideal sales approach but it can lead to brand distrust and unhealthy consumption.

As a young marketer myself however, I cannot fail to respect the success influencer marketing has had and I would also say that I do not see the harm in harnessing these sales tactics to better promote industry-disruptive brands and their products to improve the lives and experiences of those who buy them.

The Solution

“Influencer marketing has the potential to be an incredibly powerful tool for marketers, but growing consumer skepticism requires new strategies.” Brett Hyman

Advertising agencies and other forward-thinking marketers could integrate influencer with experiential marketing as described in my latest Tweet. This approach combines the relativity of an influencer to their followers and the brand or product itself. An example of this could be to host an event and invite influencers to not only promote it online but also be an integral part of it by interacting with other attendees on the day. Face to face connections can be perceived to be more trustworthy which is how this form of marketing should be controlled and best understood by parties.

(By the way, no I'm not trying to sell you the Sony camera in the article's picture!)