It’s a sunny Saturday morning in July, and the sidewalks of downtown NoLIta in New York are heaving with a sea of people that snakes around four blocks. YouTube sensation Logan Paul is making an appearance at a pop-up shop on Mulberry Street, and Paul’s devoted fans are waiting hours for a photo with the social media star, and an opportunity to snap up some Maverick fashion merchandise.
We live in the era of The Influencer. Where social “celebrities” are surpassing actors and recording artists for endorsement deals and appearance opportunities — particularly in the fashion and beauty industries. Paul, a 22-year-old who shot to stardom after posting slapstick videos to the now defunct social platform Vine, has more than 13.6 million followers on Instagram alone. An impressive figure when compared to A-listers such as Chris Hemsworth, who has 11 million. These seemingly “regular” people are the ambassadors du jour for fashion and beauty brands — the reach and intimacy they have with their audience doesn’t compare to that of mainstream celebrities.
Brands are now looking to engage socially savvy Millennials, which is exactly why the 116-year-old underwear giant Hanes enlisted Paul as a spokesperson in 2014. “Influencers can make a significant impact on a campaign. They have the ability to tap into millions of people who trust them implicitly and are following their every move: from the moment they wake up to the time they get in bed,” said Reesa Lake, partner and senior vice president at Digital Brand Architects, an influencer talent agency.
While activating an influencer campaign sounds simple enough — and for the most part, it is — there’s serious strategy behind it. It’s become a multitiered tactic for marketers looking to move away from print and television campaigns that fail to resonate with a generation that’s constantly plugged in. “Advertisers are moving away from the traditional CPM model with banner and homepage takeovers, and reallocating those budgets to integrated partnerships and sponsored content,” Lake said. “Some are shifting all funds to social-only activations on Instagram using the new swipe up capability. For traditional publishers, influencers were once bucketed as added value. Now, the talent is anchoring the campaign, creating the content, appearing in it and amplifying it.”
We’re seeing these campaigns significantly transcend traditional marketing efforts — particularly in the fashion and beauty space. Social audiences went into a frenzy over the Dolce & Gabbana fall 2017 men’s show, where influencers such as Cameron Dallas and Luka Sabbat stalked the runways instead of traditional models, in a bid to connect the brand with a younger, digitally driven audience.
These Millennials with mammoth followings were previously found in the front row for the spring 2017 collections. This season, they were relegated to the runway — cementing their relationship with the Italian fashion house. “We’ve seen a big shift in the landscape as brands are dedicating budgets and teams to focus on influencer marketing,” Lake said. “Six years ago, the term blogger was a dirty word. Brands would work with a blogger to check off a box — primarily for amplification reasons and to round out a p.r. plan. Today, we’re seeing influencers taking the reins on creative, appearing in national ad campaigns, launching products, writing books, hosting events and doing national retail tours.”
Genevieve Padalecki, the influencer behind the Instagram handle @nowandgen, has worked with beauty brands including Elemis and Secret Deodorant. Padalecki partnered with accessories brand Pop and Suki recently, and increased gross sales of their keychains by $200,000 in one month. “Some of her posts recorded over 30 percent engagement, which is unheard of,” Lake noted.
Another social star inking endorsement deals is New York-based blogger and micro-influencer, Grace Atwood. Atwood started her blog The Stripe as a creative outlet in 2010. Now, it’s her full-time job, where she produces sponsored content for the likes of Saint James, Macy’s, SK-II and eBay. Atwood is often snapped up for U.S. fashion and beauty campaigns, due to her 90 percent female following predominantly interested in fashion and beauty.
With 88,000 followers on Instagram, it pales in comparison to some other beauty and fashion influencers, but Atwood points out that “they’re all genuine,” perhaps referring to the idea that many influencers boost their numbers. “It’s not so much about follower numbers, it’s about forming genuine relationships and connections with your audience,” she said. A smaller following brings higher engagement, and with that, a certain responsibility to be transparent with your audience. “I only write about things that I truly love, which is so important,” she added.
Commitment to authenticity and legitimacy is core to a successful campaign. This commandment is leading brands to develop longer-term partnerships — and most importantly, relationships — with influencers, and as a result, their audience. “Influencers are looking to retain their engaged audience and remain authentic with brands that they genuinely love and use, while brands are able to streamline their budget and create month-over-month and year-over-year results by building on the success of these relationships,” said Molly Loven, vice president of influencer relations at public relations firm DKC. Lake agreed, believing that long-term partnerships hold more legitimacy as opposed to one-off campaigns. “One of our clients, Something Navy [Arielle Noa Charnas] starred in a global television commercial for TRESemmé that stemmed from a four-year relationship that started with a single blog post,” she said.
Charnas, a client of DBA with an 86 percent female following interested in beauty, fashion and jewelry, can drive more than 20,000 clicks to a brand’s e-commerce site, Lake noted. Demonstrating the power of influencer marketing, Charnas posted a picture of herself wearing a Ksubi denim jacket and linked it to three retailers. “The post was purely organic and not sponsored, and sold out from each e-commerce site,” Lake said.
With more than 71 percent of consumers more likely to consult social media prior to making a buying decision, and more than 57 percent of beauty and fashion companies using influencers as part of their marketing strategies, influencer marketing is allowing consumers to be part of a brand’s development. Consumers trust influencers, and by activating these authoritative key opinion leaders, power is restored to those that matter most: the people making the purchase.
Aimee Leabon is communications and marketing director at HYPRBrands, which works with brands such as Gatorade and Equinox.
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