The rise of ‘influencers’ and fall of traditional advertising
Just as video killed the radio star, Instagram has a sniper gun fixed on traditional advertising. "Influencers" — ordinary people with thousands of followers on the social media platform — who share likes and comment through carefully curated content are changing the marketing game.
With more than 500m active daily users, Instagram is becoming a new frontier. Unlike other platforms, Instagram lets brands and influencers alike know who they’re reaching, how they’re reaching them and what the audience feels about what they’re communicating.
The number of influencer posts on Instagram has nearly doubled to more than 1.5m sponsored posts (#sponsored or #ad) between 2016 and 2017. According to research firm L2, the influencer marketing industry is expected to exceed US$2bn in contract value by 2019.
Arye Kellman, chief creative officer and cofounder of Tilt Influence Architects, says his company focuses on using social media content, influencers, celebrities and trend-setters, together with traditional media and real-world experiences.
"[This] builds deep connections with digitally driven audiences, millennials and other early adopters. We provide the unfair advantage," he says.
From fly fishing to fitness, there’s an Instagram representation for almost everything people could possibly be interested in, says Kellman. And in every field of interest, there’s an array of thought leaders who are classified as influencers.
The marketing game is changing, and brands are using these influencers to gain access to the communities they have built.
"Social analytics also do a great job of going beyond the numbers to reveal how much followers actually care about the person they’re following and what they have to say," he says.
Instead of spending R40,000 on a radio campaign, for example, brands are using the same budget to pay two to three influencers across different demographics to advertise in a more relatable way.
Aqeelah Harron Ally (@fashionbreed), who boasts over 41,000 followers on Instagram and averages more than 2,500 likes per post, has created an entire business using the platform.
"It’s like my personal brand’s digital business card. It shows what I can do, who is seeing it, how many people are engaging with it and which other brands have found I’m worth [giving] the financial backing [to]," she says.
Since creating her online presence through her blog, Fashion Breed, in 2010, Harron Ally has worked with brands such as Cotton On, Rimmel, L’Oréal and the Canal Walk shopping centre.
It is an indication of her influence that brands provide her with unique promotional codes for discounts or sign-ups — which usually get a strong reaction from her followers.
The edge Instagram provides is that consumers get to internalise information about a product and are able to ask questions about it because the information is provided by a known person, she says. She focuses a lot on her nonsponsored content as a creative outlet and to attract brands.
"Just like a TV channel, you have to have a good series playing to make those ads worthwhile, and those ads are necessary to keep the series going. Too many consecutive ads with little organic content to balance it is taking advantage of your following — it’s like watching an hour of Verimark ads," she says.
In fact, advertising agencies may soon have to rethink their modus operandi. Influencers are often not famous for anything other than the lifestyle they project on their social channels. This ensures extremely fast campaign turnaround times, which is of the utmost importance for fast-fashion clients, says Cisca Badenhorst, an account director at public relations agency Atmosphere Communications.
The new trend, she says, is the rise of micro-influencers, who have fewer than 10,000 followers but hold great sway over those followers.
"Brands such as Cotton On that do not spend [their] budgets on traditional advertising have had great success using micro-influencers, with campaigns often leading to sell-outs," she says.
Neo Baepi (@neonohetero), a photographer with more than 4,600 followers, uses the platform as her CV.
Her work has been noticed by online fashion retailer Superbalist and the organisers of SA Fashion Week.
"Brands would rather work with people with a smaller, more genuine following than with folks with thousands of inactive followers or ‘bots’," she says.
Brands increasingly collaborate with influencers instead of traditional advertising, says Baepi. "Nobody passes information
from one place to the next [better] than a human being."