As the year comes to a close and brands jostle for position for top of mind among gift-givers, social media influencer marketing may seem like a sure thing to make an authentic connection with consumers. However, holiday gift-giving may not play to the strengths that make influencers so potent.
“It’s borrowed interest. We used to be harder on ourselves as an industry, trying to do good work, trying to avoid borrowed interest,” Rick Bursky, an advertising professor at USC, told AListDaily. “Influencers are just the new version of [celebrity] spokespeople. I’ve never gotten any great results out of influencers.”
The Cannes-winning Bursky, whose career spans work across agencies offering creative direction for top brands, offered that “as a rule, I would recommend against [influencers], but come up with relevant ones. Come up with something a little more interesting.”
A potential fix for the issue is to stop treating the medium as the message. According to Bursky, using influencers is similar to running a TV commercial—it may garner plenty of views, but it still needs to grab attention on its own merits.
“If you’re selling baby powder, get a baby to do it,” he said. “You spend money and you’re buying clicks, you’re buying eyeballs, the same way you would buy it on TV or in a magazine.”
Marketers have long posited that partnerships with popular social media accounts (even ones belonging to pets) pose a panacea for advertising fatigue, especially among younger consumers. A survey by Linqia found that in 2017, 86 percent of marketers used influencers. Almost all of that group claimed their efforts were effective, despite three quarters reporting difficulty actually tracking the return on their investment.
Part of this enthusiasm comes from equating activity by high-profile influencers with peer recommendations.
“Social media is like digital word-of-mouth,” said Mindy Pankoke, a product manager for Experian Marketing Services. “Leverage that digital word-of-mouth to engage those high influencers, delivering messages to them that resonate so they will be more inclined to advocate for your brand.”
Word-of-mouth is vital, especially around the holidays. Personal recommendations are the largest factor in making gift choices, with 48 percent of respondents valuing input from their peers, according to a survey conducted by Pollfish made available to AListDaily. However, many Americans don’t see high-profile social media users as their peers. Just 12 percent claim to value celebrity and social media influencer endorsements.
Though interest in influencer marketing has skyrocketed in the past year, Google says the increasing saturation may actually work to its disadvantage.
“Maybe it works, but I don’t think it’s brilliant marketing—it’s just expected,” said Bursky. “You can’t bore people into buying your product. You can’t look like everyone else and say what everyone else is saying and expect people to think differently of you.”
According to recent FTC guidelines, all endorsers, even influencers on social media, must disclose their affiliation with brands if they’re given any incentives to mention their products online. This kind of disclosure lumps brand-influencer partnerships with sponsored posts, which 67 percent of millennials claim they’ve never clicked on.
This potentially bodes poorly for the future of a group whose appeal came from a higher level of perceived authenticity than the celebrities brands used to seek endorsements from.
Just 21 percent of millennials claim that celebrity purchase behavior has any effect on their own, and the increasing focus on paid influencer sponsorships are eroding that group’s credibility as well. Among those ages 17 to 37, 40 percent reported trusting an influencer less after seeing them participate in paid sponsorships.
As the Fyre Festival debacle earlier this year demonstrates, influencers can be highly effective in certain areas. According to research by The Shelf, ROI on social media partnerships is highest when it comes to experiences—food, drinks and travel—while holiday shopping trends more toward clothing, electronics and toys.
To stand out in an ever-crowding marketplace and reach groups that are actively trying to shut advertising out, Bursky suggests putting a little more faith in creatives, even if it means taking risks.
“You can crunch data in a million ways, but still, someone has to have an idea before you put something out there,” he said. “If you want to be noticed, be brave.”