Boity Thulo. Picture: Gallo Images / Oupa Bopape
Boity Thulo. Picture: Gallo Images / Oupa Bopape

The coronavirus crisis is proving to be an unexpected boost to the rise of influencer-led advertising campaigns.

Influencer marketing is a relatively new concept, driven by the power of social media, and involves endorsements and product placements by people and organisations with a purported expert level of knowledge or social influence in their field.

The numbers are nothing short of astonishing. On Instagram the number of cricketer AB de Villers’s followers is a little shy of 10-million, while a local magician called Wian van den Berg has close to 9.5-million on the short-form video app TikTok.

Put a brand in their hands and it’s almost a guarantee of sales success. And at a time when consumers have been mainly confined to their homes and social contact has been limited, influencers have become an increasingly prominent part of our virtual lives.

Telecom firms have reported large spikes in data traffic on social platforms. And the SA Social Media Landscape 2020 report shows rising social media use, especially to new kid on the block TikTok.

According to the report SA has an estimated 24-million Facebook users, while 7.7-million use LinkedIn and more than 9-million are on Twitter and Instagram. Rapidly closing in on its competitors is TikTok, with approximately 6-million.

Ogilvy head of influencer marketing Dylan Joubert says it has never been more important to be agile: "The winners will be brands that see the opportunities to use influencers and their networks to land their message in a time of social distancing and lockdown."

The influencer industry is fed by input sent from bedrooms and lounges or next to the pool. It is built upon the ability to form virtual connections and the agility to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, such as the lockdown. Celebrities are a driving factor, but anyone with a smartphone can be the next online sensation.

"Authenticity is derived from ordinary people doing fun or creative stuff with your brand. It is in many respects more relatable and can easily go viral as a result," says actor and influential media personality Maps Maponyane.

Influencers have become the new channel during Covid-19, their communication replacing that of brands that have been too tentative to act on their own.

Influencers offer cost efficiencies, and production costs are close to zero.

By using influencers as part of their content production process. brands are able to embed themselves in their consumers’ worlds. Influencers are the tastemakers of the social landscape, so their knowledge of the ever-changing environment can be used to help brands stay present in the right way.

Ogilvy’s newly launched offering InfluenceO helps clients make the most of this new channel.

Says Joubert: "It is becoming apparent we cannot look to follow a linear post-Covid-19 strategy. While people’s behaviour is changing, everyone’s basic needs are still the same. We still need self-expression, development, recognition, connection, entertainment, and wellbeing."

Joubert says globally there has been a shift in the influencer landscape away from social reach, or vanity engagement metrics, towards a focus on driving real long-term brand results.

"Since March this trend has gone into overdrive. In fact, as we find many markets staring down a potential recession, brands are needing to prove that every rand in their marketing budget is worth the investment. Which in turn means that influencer activations are rightfully coming under further scrutiny to prove their return on investment (ROI). Our data shows that when influence is added to the mix we increase ROI by up to 35%."

According to a global survey undertaken by EY, 42% of consumers believe the way they shop will fundamentally change during and after Covid-19, with multiple sources forecasting that social commerce will contribute 5%-7% to global retail sales by 2022.

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