How To Fix Influencer Marketing (Yes, It's Broken)

June 17, 2019

Influencer marketing is broken. Not too long ago, our industry began to embrace influencer-driven campaigns as an authentic and genuine way to reach people -- a welcome contrast to consumer sentiment around some other marketing channels. After all, we’re in an era where people fast-forward through commercials and install ad blockers on their desktops, showing a growing aversion to traditional advertising. As an industry, we believed that partnering with influencers would offer a new way for brands to be seen, engaged with, and ultimately, be purchased. We bought our way into Instagram feeds, chasing “authenticity.” And with that rise in ad dollars came regulation. While regulation isn’t a bad thing, the proliferation of new laws that mandated the use of the hashtag “#AD” alongside paid influencer campaigns gave way to a different conundrum: a new wave of wanna-be influencers spoofing endorsements and more consumers scrolling quickly past the barrage of paid endorsements. The industry’s response? Downsizing from macro influencers to micro-influencers to now to nano-influencers. But is the size of the following really the problem we need to focus on solving? Or is the issue that we’ve held influencer marketing to a different standard than other advertising? We want influencer messages to be authentic and relevant, even when consumers know it is an #AD. We need to shift negative sentiment -- both from an industry and consumer point of view -- when it comes to seeing #AD alongside a post. The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is already celebrating influencer marketing as a viable channel for brilliant, provocative and creative advertising, proven by the addition of a “Social & Influencer Lions” track to its award programming last year. Instead of using influencer campaigns exclusively to chase authenticity, we should look at what works best in this space and create groundbreaking influencer #ADs. Bigger can still be better In contrast to the industry conversation about micro and nano influencers, Cannes shows us that smaller doesn’t have to be the answer. Standout brands don’t go small; they go big. They find the right moment, in the right cultural climate -- with the right influencers -- to create a huge impact. Nike’s Dream Crazy campaign showed us that harnessing the right moment and the right influencer can not only evoke an emotional reaction, but can also drive strong business results. Don’t just say something – do something If you really want to make an impact, make your influencer campaign more than just words in a feed. Carefully scripted brand buys don’t hold a candle to a brand taking action that consumers and influencers alike can rally behind. Microsoft’s Changing the Game campaign was a brilliant example of this. They not only took a stand, they took action. There was genuine passion and excitement from influencers that helped this campaign take root in culture. Idea led over influencer led We know the best campaigns are often multichannel, yet influencer marketing is still frequently siloed from other communication. We shouldn’t be looking at influencer programs in a vacuum, but as one in a complementary set of channels leveraged to deliver an overarching idea. Influencers weren’t the central idea in Samsung x Fornite Galaxy Skin campaign, but they did play a crucial role in people learning about the Galaxy’s hidden competitive advantage for gamers including the exclusive Fortnite skin. The influencer element of the campaign was a key piece of a coordinated social strategy, which was a cohesive part of a larger marketing idea. Influencer campaigns work best when leveraged in service of a larger idea. As an industry, we need to get real about influencer marketing. It is, intrinsically, an #AD and we need to treat it as such. When it comes to the future of influencer marketing, we need to think bigger, be meaningful, and take a more holistic approach to how we think about and leverage influencers to create not just a well-done #AD, but to drive real brand impact.