The Influencer Marketing Authenticity Crisis: Twelve Months On

In 2017, Splendid released a report revealing influencer marketing was in the middle of an Authenticity Crisis. It pulled back the curtain on a damaging lack of creativity, transparency and accountability. 

After witnessing the latest in a long line of painfully viral influencer marketing fails, this time funded by the folks over at Listerine, it’s clear that things have gone from bad to worse. 

Elsewhere, influencer partnerships are being mocked by the industry that employs them, as in the new #JUICYAD campaign from Juicy Couture, and top beauty influencers have been shamefully offering to write negative competitor reviews for a cool $75,000 a pop.

Where do we go from here? Is this the low tide mark?

I was asked recently by Luxury Society to comment on how, in 2018, more premium and luxury brands can (and should) work better with influencers.

For me, it comes down to two fundamental mistakes that most brands keep making, and the fashion, beauty and travel sectors are some of the worst offenders.

Firstly, they don’t seem to know why they are working with influencers. They haven’t identified the unique role of influencers in their business and marketing plan.

Influencers are often seen as a simple answer to the triple threat of ad blockers, message fatigue and plain indifference among online audiences, all the while sharing their equity with brands. It is not that simple.

Influencers aren’t channels, they’re real people with real lives who have built a following through the strength of their output, character and personality.

It’s down to brands and agencies to create a meaningful collaboration. Of course, the influencer wants to be paid. So when brands blindly throw money at them without being clear on the story they want to co-create and why, the authenticity of the partnership is never strong enough.

In truth, it is really simple: the more an influencer can shape the collaboration, the more they will care and the better the output will be.

Secondly, brands fail to focus on the right metrics. This is a problem. Without the right objectives established in advance, influencer marketing will struggle to prove tangible value if you actually begin to dig beneath the surface. As revealed in a recent study from Points North Group, big, global brands are being duped by influencers with huge numbers of fake followers. These are marquee names who are not delivering because the right evaluation criteria aren’t in place.

This, combined with the huge sums now demanded by “pay per post” influencers, is clear proof that the relationship between brands and influencers is more strained than ever due to the imbalance between investment and return.

It’s frustrating to see because, when engaged effectively, influencers can deliver impact on a very meaningful level. The right voices telling the right stories can fundamentally change how people think about a brand and drive them to purchase.

A big part of this comes with telling a deeper story across many channels; not just producing an Instagram post that disappears into the digital ether but aiming for a lasting cultural collaboration. Brands should always be seeking to make the partnership as rich and unique as possible but even if the output is just a single piece of content, there still needs to be a truthful connection between the brand and influencer.

Patagonia is a brand that sets the bar high. Their influencer marketing is no different. Their deep, unshakeable values as an organisation naturally makes it easy to find influencers who share their values and create meaningful, engaging work. The more natural, authentic and exclusive the partnership, the more it resonates with the influencer’s followers and the better the impact for the brand.

Sadly, too often in the worlds of fashion, travel and beauty, the commercialism, inauthenticity and brand promiscuity practiced by influencers renders working with them almost pointless. Many will be promoting another brand within 24 hours. Even if it isn’t a direct competitor, the proximity devalues the work.

We are – more than ever – being asked to secure periods of exclusivity for our clients considering influencer marketing activity, and all parties need to be more open to those conversations. This is a very real and urgent issue. Not just to benefit the brand, but to retain the influencer’s credibility as well.  

Influencers need to learn, a brand a day will turn the money away.

By Alex Clough
Creative Strategy Director  

Download the Influencer Marketing Authenticity Crisis Report (2017) now for more insight.