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Influencers: marketing messiah or ticking time bomb?

Influencers: marketing messiah or ticking time bomb? iMedia Editors

It used to be simpler back in the halcyon sepia-filtered era of traditional media. A slick 30 second TV spot, catchy radio jingle and glossy print ad served brands, agencies and publishers pretty well.

Then digital came along and took the party online. New platforms, the rise of digital media and disruptive cultural change has forced a re-think of how the whole value chain functions. Fortunately for advertisers and agencies, the decline of traditional tactics has given rise to creative engagement strategies.

Whilst influencer marketing has been around for over a century (remember the Marlboro Man?), the ability to combine sway and technology has relatively recently spawned an appetite for influencers.

You don’t need Kanye, Kim and a whopping budget to launch a successful influencer campaign. A wide range of brands of different shapes and sizes are tapping into a population who are dis-engaged with traditional media and marketing initiatives.

The feedback is that it works. Linqia's The State of Influencer Marketing Survey revealed that 94% of marketers in 2017 who have tried it rate its ability to deliver authentic engagement and drive online traffic.

Adidas is one such brand. The global sportswear giant teamed up with digital agency POSSIBLE and Chelsea FC starlet Ruben Loftus-Cheek to push the boundaries of ‘influencers’ on mobile. Adidas and POSSIBLE developed an app that only allowed those with a special code to purchase its new customisable Glitch football boot.

The campaign, which emulated the early days of Uber in driving growth from referrals, was based on the principle that at the heart of a brand lies a community - in this case, talented young football players in the London area. Influencers with a referral code within the M25 could order their Glitch boots via the app and have them delivered within a four hour window.

Rather than breaking the bank on a mega celebrity endorsement, Adidas planted the seed for a community of micro influencers. Adidas then gave control of how the community developed to fans who partly ran the app through a chat service, content and social functions.

“The ability for players to change their style whenever they want is something not seen before so we had to reflect that in the way we launched the product,” says Marc Makowski, Adidas’ Director of Business Development.

“The whole world of Glitch is built based on consumer insights and developed together with our audience in London…The most exciting thing about the app itself is that we’ll be able to constantly review consumer feedback as we go to develop it in line with what our audience want.”

Cost becomes an issue when scaling such an initiative but the campaign successfully created excitement and scarcity. Fans even put referral codes for sale on ebay, a by-product of the campaign’s success.

Adidas’ decision to choose highly engaged and authentic micro influencers over A-list celebs is an example of a wider industry trend. Research by HelloSociety found engagement rates for micro-influencers to be 60% higher than more popular accounts.

Gap’s successful styld.by campaign engaged fashion bloggers worldwide and embraced user generated content. Meanwhile, L’Oreal has recruited five British bloggers to form a ‘Beauty’ squad charged with the task of creating fun and authentic content made for L’Oreal’s target audience, by L’Oreal’s target audience.

“We wanted to have a special partnership with our influencers and use them to speak about the brand and create great content including new product development, how-to guides and tips. Often consumers are looking for this type of content online and we wanted to be the brand providing that to them,” Adrien Koskas, L’Oréal’s UK General Manager told Marketing Week.

Whilst brands are investing heavily in influencer marketing, proving ROI continues to be a challenge as marketers struggle to find a robust metric for engagement.

Worst still, some brands risk falling foul of UK advertising regulation requiring all "marketing communications to be obviously identifiable as such". Last summer, the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN) also published guidelines for influencers requiring them to be transparent over commercial relationships.

Callum McCahon, Born Social's Strategy Director argues that influencer marketing creates confusion over what’s deemed an ad and what isn’t. When they do agree that a post is an ad, the consumer is often still confused or unaware.

Instagram, the influencer’s medium of choice, has no clear guidelines on the subject. Born Social’s The Social Report revealed 77% of Instagram users to be unaware of what the #sp hashtag means. Nearly half (48%) did not know the meaning of the #ad hashtag.

Maintaining authenticity and being upfront is walking a tightrope for marketers who know that consumers are less likely to trust an influencer if they know he or she is being paid to post.

At its best, influencer marketing epitomises everything marketing should be - high impact, creative, content-driven, innovative, data and technology-focused. It’s also here to stay.

But trust is fragile - just ask Google.

In an area that’s more grey than black and white, marketers must be seen to act responsibly. Failure to play by the rules risks punitive action from the regulators and derailing one of the most exciting trends in marketing right now.

Adidas’ Marc Makowski and POSSIBLE CEO - EMEA Darin Brown are speakers alongside leaders from Starbucks, Hotels.com, VICE, UBS, Celtra and Sony Mobile at MMS Mobile & The Street Food Social on 6 July at The Old Truman Brewery, London. Click here for details.

iMedia Communications, Inc. is a trade publisher and event producer serving interactive media and marketing industries. The company was founded in September of 2001 and is a subsidiary of Comexposium USA.  ...

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