The Evolution of Influencer Marketing

By John Licardi  | 

The sway of social influencers has long been strong, and now these content creators are poised to exert ever-greater pull on the advertising landscape, according to a new CreatorIQ study. That’s due in part to Generation Z consumers, who are both drawn to social campaigns and have an estimated buying power of $143 billion in the US. Here’s what brands need to know about the new state of influencer marketing.

In It for the Long Haul
In their first iteration, influencers mainly worked with brands on one-off campaigns, but now those transactional relationships are experiencing an evolution. Longer-term contracts can last for a year or more, with content creators often lending expertise on everything from product design to launch plans. Case in point: Yeti Holding, makers of luxury coolers and upscale camping gear, collaborated with a team of influencers on a spectrum of creative endeavors, including product development and short films that promote their specific style of outdoor fun. For their part, more influencers are now selecting the brands with which they wish to partner, based on those that align with their own social and ethical values. In fact, a recent Forrester study showed that more than half of Gen Zers in the 18-23 age range will make sure a company is socially responsible before buying in.

Say It with Social
Gen Z values authenticity more than any previous generation. Forrester described Gen Zers as “truth barometers,” meaning they can quickly ascertain authenticity and will turn on brands that aren’t truthfully engaging with issues. That reality is partly evidenced by the group’s devotion to TikTok, a social video app that exists to create real content— regardless of the unflattering results. Unsurprisingly, TikTok consumption skyrocketed during the first year of the pandemic, bringing forth a new wave of influencers like Charli D’Amelio, who counts 84 million followers and recently had a Dunkin’ Donuts drink named in her honor. Collaborating with influencers increased brand reach and impact by 57 percent last year compared to 2019, according to Klear’s State of Influencer Marketing 2021 report. What’s more, Gen Z was responsible for a nine percent lift in the production of influencer content when using the #ad hashtag on social media posts. Mountain Dew recently took advantage of this power by pairing with influencers on a nostalgia-based campaign that combined a YouTube spot with a TikTok giveaway. The soda brand first released a “lost” episode of The Joy of Painting, the campy instructional show once hosted by the late Bob Ross which, in this case, featured a body double wearing prosthetics and a wig. As “Ross” painted a bottle of Mountain Dew against a snowy backdrop, influencers gave away paint kits on TikTok to further deepen consumer engagement. As e-commerce and content become more deeply linked, social sites like Facebook and YouTube are likewise furthering the development of influencer relationships by providing marketers tools to both measure influencer impact and support the online ordering of products and goods.

Consumers as Influencers
Just as reality TV made it possible for regular individuals to score their fifteen minutes of fame, so too are brands blurring the line between consumer and influencer. Companies like Babe Wine, which was founded by social media influencers, now offers an expanded brand ambassador program that identifies customers who might serve as good content creators. Gen Z is supportive of such efforts: 54 percent said they’d become influencers if given the chance, according to a Morning Consult survey. New platforms like Cameo, a video-sharing website, are further incentivizing the allure of influencer work by letting fans pay influencers (and lesser-known celebrities) to record custom videos for various events. In another sign of the growing power of influencers, SAG-AFTRA announced in February a groundbreaking new Influencer Agreement that will offer union coverage and benefits to influencers when they create and perform in branded content videos for use across all social media platforms. The Influencer Agreement was released in March. For full details, see the 2021 Influencer-Produced Sponsored Content Agreement and SAG-AFTRA’s Influencer Agreement Fact Sheet.

John Licardi
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