LONDON — When the pandemic hit, a lot of questions were raised about the future of the influencer landscape.
Without luxury travel, front rows, and opportunities to dress up, many — wishfully — thought the age of the influencer would be over, along with sponsored posts and the manicured lifestyle they portrayed across social media.
But influencers persevered: They shared recipes for their followers, hosted Instagram Lives for brands, posed in pastel-hued Pangaia tracksuits, and dressed up at home for online fashion weeks.
But 2022 might be the year that the influencer scene, along with the consumer psyche, finally shifts.
Fatigue seems to be growing for two-dimensional, overly polished imagery that the original crop of Instagram influencers relied upon. It’s being replaced by content that offers cultural relevance, true entertainment, and expertise.
It’s why hit TV series, celebrity actors, pop stars, and beauty professionals are re-emerging as the ultimate trendsetters. Products are more likely to go viral when Dua Lipa or Savannah Lee Smith in “Gossip Girl” wear them, while online audiences would much rather watch a beauty tutorial by French makeup artist Violette Serrat than an amateur with a big following.
“We are living the second decade of the democratization of fashion. During the last decade, bloggers and influencers broke down the walls of the industry, and brands started selling to their customers directly online. But now it’s all about cultural relevance and community,” said Brenda Otero, cultural insights manager at Lyst.
“Fashion lovers don’t need to look at some Instagram influencers anymore; they prefer to layer different styles, and mix influences from digital-born trends, Netflix, musicians or video games. It sort of works in a similar way as TikTok’s algorithm: bringing all your interests together.”
According to Lyst data, the next crop of personalities that fashion brands will want to work with in 2022 are “cultural pioneers” who have day jobs and who stand for social or political causes.
The company’s “stars to watch” in the new year include the American poet Amanda Gorman; U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu; skater-turned-actor Nico Hiraga, and the poet and activist Kai-Isaiah Jamal.
Indeed, they have already featured in shows and campaigns for the likes of Louis Vuitton, Tommy Hilfiger, Martine Rose and Calvin Klein.
Part of this shift is no doubt a side effect of Gen Zers growing up, having more spending power, and demanding more educational and less filtered online content.
It’s why brands are likely to start shifting their marketing spends toward those harbingers of culture, be it activists, or TV stars, as well as Gen Z-approved TikTok-ers and professionals in their fields.
The change has already been bubbling throughout the last year, when the return of fashion weeks saw front rows populated by new faces made famous on TikTok, from Emma Chamberlain to Daniel Simmons, and Violet Ezedimora. TikTok also took over the Fashion Awards in London last December.
“Spontaneous posts and stories, authenticity, and an uncalculated approach are necessary components to stimulate consumers. TikTok has particularly impacted this shift as well, as the app’s content offers users an entirely different, and far less static, experience than Instagram,” said Linda Saieb, founder of influencer marketing agency LHS Consulting.
“People have become tired of content that is overly sophisticated or forcefully curated. They’re bored of seeing the same faces. I wouldn’t say it’s become a disinterest in influencers overall, but rather of the redundancy that can come of that world,” she added.
Instagram had become such a big part of people’s lockdown routine, that there’s now a bigger appetite to look to the red carpet for inspiration and escape into more interactive storytelling — be it the love triangle in “Emily in Paris” or the latest TikTok dance routine.
What does this mean for brands? In short, that using a big budget to dress, wine and dine the most-followed fashion content creators just won’t do the trick anymore.
“Brands need to really push their creativity to communicate, find new profiles which might be different from their competitors to generate curiosity, or develop new relationships with up-and-coming media figures,” added Saieb.
“People need life behind a product post since the lockdown enabled consumers to be virtually overwhelmed by so much social media and its nuances. Girls like Amina Muaddi, Violette Serrat, and Gilda Ambrosio, for example, are entrepreneurial figures who have something to say beyond a product.”
Brands have also been finding new opportunities to increase their reach and connect with new audiences by working with costume designers and getting visibility on hit TV series.
Independent accessories label Métier saw a massive boost amid the pandemic when Nicole Kidman wore one of its bags, both on-screen in the “Undoing” and in her day-to-day life.
“We experienced both sales and general awareness almost immediately and for several months, it was really great especially in the midst of the pandemic. I think there was such a strong reaction because there is an authentic connection between the type of characters who have worn our pieces on TV and our real clients (sans the drama and murder). In Nicole Kidman’s case in the ‘Undoing,’ Grace is an ultra-sophisticated woman who charts her own path in life,” said the brand’s founder and creative director Melissa Morris.
Ditto for Marina Raphael, an independent accessories label based in Athens, Greece, which has recently had cameos in both “Gossip Girl” and the “Sex and the City” spin-off “And Just Like That.”
“Maintaining this influencer network for brands is becoming more expensive and time-consuming, while TV’s capacity to capture and inspire millions in one sitting is a much more attractive proposition. Plus, if played correctly and with the right assets, you will get press traction. too,” said Alexandra Carello, a communications consultant who works with Raphael, among others.
“There is a sense of growing ennui among influencers and brands. Celebrity is key to having those big moments that will live much longer than just an Instagram Story, as is working to place your brand in something that feels part of a cultural zeitgeist or nostalgia for millions. Beloved TV personalities from shows like ‘Dynasty,’ ‘Gossip Girl’ and ‘Sex and The City’ inspire nostalgia in generations while capturing new ones, so this intergenerational and international reach is incredibly attractive,” she added.
A similar shift is happening in the beauty arena, too, where celebrity brands and campaigns have been flooding the market, while content by professional makeup artists, dermatologists, or hairstylists is back in favor over amateur tutorials.
“The industry is turning back to makeup artists and seeking their opinions and expertise when it comes to setting trends or learning certain skills. It now feels like we have more defined ‘roles’ for everyone involved in our industry with beauty professionals back at the center of attention and new incredibly creative talents emerging [through TikTok],” said Nora Zukauskaite, marketing director at Ciaté London, which has been responding to the changing landscape with a new campaign featuring “Selling Sunset” star Christine Quinn.
“We have found that consumers are influenced by their peers or true experts. They understand that influencers are getting paid by brands to promote products and no longer buy into such type of advertising,” she added. “They don’t find it real or authentic. Hence marketing budgets are shifting toward platforms like TikTok, which are raw and real, or working with viral makeup artists and dermatologists.”
That’s not to say that Instagram’s fashion and beauty creators will suddenly vanish in the new year.
According to Launchmetrics, the media impact value generated by all-star influencers during the fall 2022 season increased by 65 percent. But there’s bound to be a slow-down in traditional Instagram campaigns, with new personalities rising to the top and fewer old-school influencers retaining their relevance. It’s not unlike the changes the digital revolution brought in the early Noughties, with many print titles folding and only the ones with a clear niche or brand identity able to keep going.
“Content for the sake of content is no longer something consumers looked for or felt inspired by — in fact, they gravitate toward more meaningful voices which can bring them information, inspiration or escapism. The ones who can provide it are the ones who will rise to the top and drive brand performance,” said Alison Bringé, chief marketing officer at Launchmetrics, pointing to personalities like Chiara Ferragni, who has long evolved beyond the “influencer” label to that of digital entrepreneur and expanded her gamut to her own brand, charity campaigns, and most recently a popular Amazon Prime series about her family life.
“She targeted the younger fans when she launched her collection of school supplies on TikTok all while targeting the moms-to-be when launching her baby collection. Add to that the latest launch of her Amazon Prime reality TV show, which brings another dimension of vulnerability and proximity to her character, making her relatable and loved by all ages and a perfect brand partner,” added Bringé.