Fifteen Minutes of Fame… and Influence

“Influencer marketing is hot right now. Some are asking if it can last…”

“In the future, everyone in the world will be famous for 15 minutes”. In 1968, when Andy Warhol made his famous prediction, the world wide web was still decades in the future. But he nailed it: with Instagram and YouTube and Facebook, we are all broadcasters now. The internet has democratised fame.

Today, for many, social media has taken over from traditional media as a source of news and from TV advertising as a marketing platform. You could worry that it’s a threat to democracy, you could argue that it’s creating filter bubbles of intellectual isolation and fake news…but you can’t argue that it’s here. And with it has come a whole new breed who are famous for being famous. The influencers.

For Millennials and Generation Z, the influencers they follow on Instagram, YouTube, Twitter or Facebook are more relevant to them, more real, more engaging than ‘traditional’ Hollywood stars or TV celebs. And with some of those influencers having a follower base counted in millions, brands have rushed to sign them up. When Weight Watchers signed up DJ Khaled, with his 9 million Instagram followers, the company’s stock immediately rose 8% on the NY Stock Exchange.

You can find influencers with followers in their millions in all the predictable categories – food, music, fashion, fitness, beauty, travel, gaming – but also in B2B areas like PR and technology. According to Tapinfluence, a provider of cloud-based Influencer marketing software, 73% of marketers say that they have an allocated budget for influencer marketing.

ION, who provide a matchmaking platform for brands and influencers, say that 71% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase based on a social media reference. And YouTube claims that 70% of teenage YouTube subscribers trust influencer opinions over traditional celebrities.

But before you rush to allocate your entire marketing budget to some Z-lister who lasted three weeks in the Big Brother household, or a vlogger who made it to the final four of The Bachelor, the same rules apply as with any traditional endorsement. Is there a synergy between your brand and the influencer? Do they really love your product, or could they just as easily switch to a rival next year? Were they fans of your product before they became famous?

Millennials and Gen Z may be ‘young’, but they’re not dumb. They can spot phoney. The DJ they’ve seen on a thousand posts driving his gold Lamborghini, suddenly professing his love for a budget automobile brand? The shameless post for a health drink or beauty product that has [INSERT NAME HERE] written all over it? They’ll spot it.

Brand building is a slow, patient process. It’s based on authenticity above all else. It doesn’t matter whether you’re sponsoring sports stars, TV celebrities, Instagram influencers or events, whether your media platform is traditional or social, what you do has to be true to your brand and its enduring values. That’s why Breitling, a brand long associated with aviation, has brand ambassadors like astronaut Scott Kelly. It’s why Nike signed LeBron James on the company’s first ever lifetime contract. And why DJ Khaled – who claims to have lost 20lbs already – could be an inspired signing for Weight Watchers.

Meanwhile, some brands are turning away from signing one or two mega influencers in favour of a broader spread of micro-influencers, whose audience is more likely to number in tens of thousands. And some commentators suggest that the age of the influencer will be over as quickly as it has grown, like one of those algal blooms on the ocean that choke out all the oxygen they need to survive. It begs the question: when everyone is busy generating content for their fifteen minutes of fame, who is going to be in the audience?

What are your experiences of influencer marketing? Is it a major part of your brand strategy, or do you favour other platforms? Who are your influencers, and why? Join the discussion.