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The risks associated with influencer marketing and how to avoid them

In an age where traditional advertising has received less and less attention from consumers, influencer marketing has emerged as a proven strategy among marketers. They are enamored with the colossal reach that several celebrities and macro-influencers have attained and the level of engagement that’s possible. And with the rising threats of ad blocking and ad blindness, marketers take comfort in the research that shows that 60% of consumers consult blogs, vlogs, or social media posts on products before considering a purchase and that influencer marketing can generate 11x the ROI of traditional advertising. Now, as influencer marketing budgets begin to usurp traditional advertising budgets, it’s time to look at how to more tangibly drive metrics that matter through influencer marketing and how influencer marketing should be folded into, or at least supported by strong creative execution.

The notion of an influencer is nothing new. It can be traced back to the great decade of the 1760s. Some readers may be too young to remember, but at the time, anybody who was anybody on the UK’s afternoon tea circuit would serve up their delights on Wedgewood chinaware. And this was no coincidence, Josiah Wedgwood, the founder of the Wedgwood brand (and often referred to as the father of the modern brand), used royal endorsements as a marketing device. In doing so, he didn’t only show off his lovely cups and saucers, he showed the world the value of endorsement, and he made George III of England the first proper influencer.

Any visit to a local supermarket in the UK provides proof that this regal influencing still happens today. Pop into a Tesco store, and you will find many alcohols, jams, biscuits, and much more stamped with a royal emblem. It adds class to the product, but more importantly, makes the consumer’s choice easier - “if it’s good for her majesty, it’ll do for me.”

Since then things have changed somewhat, but we can still see influencers throughout marketing history, even President Reagan told us he was sending Chesterfield cigarettes to all his friends, as “That’s the merriest Christmas any smoker can have – Chesterfield mildness plus no unpleasant after-taste”. 

From there, advertisers went to trade cards; these were often found packaged along with products or shown on shop counters and collections and would show famous actors or actresses (think Lily Langtry for Pears soap) or sports stars of the time.

We have been creating the association of products and celebrities for a long time. And the reason we do it has never changed.

What has changed is that marketers no longer have to pay Tiger Woods a gazillion dollars to use our Golf Clubs. Though undoubtedly a worthwhile investment, it is an amount of money that only a tiny fraction have. 

To be a celebrity now, and to be watched by millions, no longer requires talents such as sporting ability or thespianism, or even royal blood.

Social media channels like Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube, have made it easier to make yourself seen on screen. Couple that with the fact that there are far more screens to be seen on and we have the rise of the modern influencer. 

The reason for the potential here is that though social media channels, brands can speak directly to their audience. An audience that looks up to them just as we would look up to King George all those years ago. But they are not royals anymore, and they are not Michael Jordon or David Beckham, they are regular people trying out products honestly and often with as much excitement as a child at Christmas. It comes across as more honest, more organic, and it does not feel like we are being sold to.

Logan Paul, now world-famous as an influencer, states that: “The biggest companies in the world and brands have come to me to help sell their product to the younger generation. And I speak the language of millennials, and they respond to my content.”

Through relevant influencers, your content is placed in front of social users that are already interested in your niche. You don’t have to spend money on researching your audience - the influencer has already done that for you. This also means that you can enrich your content strategy of the back of your influencer; any gaps in your content schedule can be quickly filled with proven content being produced by somebody endorsing your product. When it works, it is a win-win.

 

However, what are the risks involved?

It seems that wherever celebrities are involved, the risk of scandal is not far off. It proves the point that we are perhaps a little too obsessed with the celebrity, but it is a caveat nonetheless. We can go back to Tiger Woods; in 2009, huge companies such as Nike, Tag Heuer. Gilette and a good few more were in a tricky position. Their poster boy, the once in a generation Golf prodigy Mr. Woods, was accused of infidelity following argument that went public. He and his wife had had a heated debate, which had resulted in a minor car accident outside his home.

So what? None of our business, no one hurt, and we shall not be sticking our noses into someone else’s marriage, not shall we be judging anybody based on rumors... Except that Tiger Woods is a celebrity and his wife a model, so the world decided to do precisely all of those things. Over the next few weeks, investors in firms that used Woods in advertisements lost $12 billion as share prices fell. It’s an incredible amount of money, but it is a stark reminder that the celebrities we follow are also human beings. None of us are squeaky clean. If we want to attach our product to somebody brilliant at what they do, and potentially brilliant for what we want to do, we can not forget that they are also human beings with just as much potential to slip up as us. 

The Havard Business Review had this to say on the danger that comes along with the advantages that social media brings: “It’s made it very easy for people to go back to see what someone said and identify an area of controversy. Take Kevin Hart: He lost the chance to host the 2019 Oscars because of homophobic tweets he sent several years ago. Looking at a celebrity’s social media history is one way companies perform due diligence. It’s impossible to completely avoid the risk of scandal; few celebrities are squeaky clean. The best approach is to invest in the selection process and then draw up a contract with a very strong morals clause and the ability to exit quickly if necessary.”

The risks are there, and they may well be a sign that we, as a people have become celebrity-obsessed and far too fickle. But, managed carefully, it is a wonderful avenue to explore. When it comes to making purchasing decisions, we are still just as impressed today as we were in the 1760s. The difference now is that you don’t have to befriend the king of England to do it.

 

Jenny Stanley, managing director at Appetite Creative.

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