As consumers plea for more authenticity in their marketing, there has been a steady decline in sentiment surrounding the use of celebrity, or macro influencers in advertising. Companies are shifting to micro influencers in an attempt to quell the fact that millennials trust influencers less than ever before, but a deep mistrust of influencers on every level has creeped its way into the digital landscape, and it isn’t going away. While the death of the influencer is inevitable within the next 5 – 10 years, it won’t happen overnight, but we’ve already seen how dramatically the system can be gamed. In a world where AI simulated influencers have literal beef with each other, it’s not hard to identify areas of mistrust when it comes to influencer marketing. Accounts like @lilmiquela boast over 1.5 million followers and has secured over 6 million dollars in funding to continue to exist, and it’s purpose goes beyond perpetuating traditional notions of the social media influencer and rather, dismantling it completely.
@lilmiquela and others, including @bermudaisbae & @shudu.gram play deeply on the fact that at its core, influencer marketing has become a product of its platform – an inauthentic experience dressed as reality. The further influencers have strayed from depicting any sense of relatability, the less their millennial demographic tends to trust products marketed by them. With the nuance and overwrought perfection of marco influencer accounts comes equal opportunities for parody, art and ironically, influence. Take accounts like @celestebarder whose over 5.1 million followers were garnered solely off making fun of influencers.
Aside from false depictions of reality, the worst flaws of influencer marketing are the ease in which following, engagement and overall influence can be completely faked. To prove this point, influencer marketing agency Mediakix built two influencer accounts with fake followers and stock photos, and within two weeks both accounts were being offered over $500 by brands for their posts. As one of the fastest growing advertising vehicles that’s ever existed, it’s completely feasible and simple, and not even that time consuming, to create fake influence on the platform. There are a host of tools that help good agencies analyze following and engagement to avoid serious missteps when it comes to choosing who to work with, but I’ve personally witnessed some of the biggest agencies in the country overlooking these checks and balances and relying solely on popular influencer platforms like HYPR to choose who to work with – a platform that uses no tool to determine the percentage of fake followers an account has, use of stock photography, and that can’t even filter accounts who don’t post their own photos. If the biggest agencies in the country are so blinded by the synthetic appeal of influencer marketing that they are ceasing to do the most basic footwork, imagine how many client dollars have been wasted at the hands of bandwagon campaigns wrapped in shiny paper and delivered to the client with the bells and whistles of having achieved the next hot thing – all or mostly delivered with metrics that directly hold little value to the client’s bottom line – an obscure sea of one off engagements and impressions.
All flaws aside, we can’t write off influencer marketing, yet. As a vertical that pulled in over 1 billion dollars in ad spend in 2018 alone, influencer marketing is an essential part of marketing strategy for the right brands. But hire an agency that knows what they’re doing. Many agencies employ their own micro influencers and YouTube creators to help with content, strategy and moving them into the future – a world that exists without the divide of traditional and digital marketing, where we’ve pivoted from the antiquated model of copywriters + designers. The future of advertising is content creators. As influencer marketing becomes less and less popular, but content remains essential, where will brands turn next to innovate their advertising and reach the youngest, top spending consumers? The answer as many already know, is to AI, VR, AR, experiential and digital video. The brands who have still been resistant to the essential nature of digital video as a part of their marketing mix will be forced to adapt, as upwards of 70% of consumers will be searching for the things they want to spend money on from their mobile phones by 2019, making vertical video an imperative part of any integrated media strategy. Paid platforms like Google Ads and Facebook have already adapted their ad formats to allow creators to easily integrate their ideas in a vertical format, and programs like Adobe Spark allow creators to produce content efficiently in vertical layouts.
Innovations in AI, AR and VR will start allowing for more robust, integrated shopping experiences and completely dismantle the way consumers experience a brand, in real life, virtually. Many agencies are already using AI to completely innovate user experience, through community management and engagement (more on this another time), but also through search engine optimization, programmatic advertising, user personas, lead nurturing, dynamic pricing, messaging and automated content. Once AR and VR technologies become more accessible, we will see a total shift from the feigned authenticity of influencer campaigns into completely derived experiences where users control the outcomes. By 2020, global revenue for AR and VR is expected to reach over 143 million dollars, but as of 2018, few brands are taking advantage of the technologies, mainly due to restrictions of production and budget. Some brands that have nailed it already include Lowes and the New York Times, and according to a recent study, over the next 3-4 years, 30% of consumers will begin watching television via a VR headset which means brands will be forced to adapt to virtual experiences as their preferred advertising formats.
Spending on influencer marketing is expected to increase in 2019 to 2.38 billion, and will most likely take a half a decade to fizzle out completely, so it’s important to work with agencies that have a proven track record of success. Expertise in contracts, creative briefs, and tools that weed out the bullshit are imperative. A hard focus on ROI, sales and traffic, and less of a concern with the givens – impressions and engagements, is also crucial. And most importantly, hire an agency who can create experiences that lend themselves to social media in order to organically achieve the results we hire influencers to mimic. Experiential marketing is essential, and if your agency isn’t providing it as an option, you’ll be missing out on key opportunities for growth and exposure moving forward.