So much of what becomes popular in the entertainment industry has always been driven by reviews and recommendations. Remember the ‘water cooler’ moment when people would excitedly huddle to debate the latest episode of a hit TV show or a new album release? Much of this now happens on social media, in real-time, offering brands a far more authentic and engaging opportunity to be talked about, by their loyal customers, directly to their community of friends and followers.
Appearing to allow more control over messaging, especially when contracted with an individual celebrity, the use of influencers is a tactic now firmly ingrained in a marketer’s toolbox. Increasingly, entertainment brands have turned to influencers to help create a buzz around new entertainment properties. These influencers can engage with Gen Z (a core market for a large percentage of entertainment brands) in a (cost-effective) way that major glossy advertising campaigns never can.
Influencing Gen Z
To ‘influence’ Gen Z, and build trust and loyalty, these influencer campaigns need to be mindful of, and rooted in authenticity. Gen Z don’t mind being sold to, but they demand that brands are true to their values. An EY study released in November highlighted the need for businesses to build trust and confidence with Gen Z. Choosing an influencer for brands, therefore, requires more than just research into how many followers they have or likes on their posts. Consumers now desire influencers to resonate with their values and ethics, honestly pairing with and reflecting those of the brand that they are representing.
In this changing landscape brands are beginning to choose to work with more targeted influencers, a step away from big celebrities or glamorous, unreachable and unattainable role models. For example, food brand Chipotle has run a series of successful influencer campaigns, and in the summer of 2021 ran a partnership campaign with drag queens to celebrate Pride Month, with donations given to an LGBGQ+ charity.
Spotify’s ‘Find your feels’ campaign worked with blind disability activist Lucy Edwards, trans model Kenny Ethan-Jones, footballer Callum Hudson-Odoi and TV personality Molly-Mae Hague to share songs that represent seminal moments in their lives.
Social media has had a significant impact on the ability of brands to fine-tune their influencer campaigns, segment their audiences more cost-effectively, or to reach their target audience on the right platform, at the right time, when they are most likely to be receptive to a message. Gen Z especially consumes media almost entirely on social platforms and alongside the benefits of social media for brands in reaching their Gen Z audience more easily, comes greater responsibility and authenticity for brands needing to select influencers based on their suitability and relevance to their values. Gen Z champions authenticity, valuing real connections and shared moments.
Influencers using social platforms
In the past, influencers typically weren’t paid to express opinions or observations, and for some, what they could or couldn’t say would be written into their contracts. Many celebrities are instead now using their platform as an opportunity to speak out on social issues, including Billie Ellish, Olivia Rodrigo and Lily Allen who used the Glastonbury stage and social media to condemn the US Supreme court overturning of Roe vs Wade.
Equally, the Wimbledon tennis championships saw Coco Gauff, Emma Raducanu and Iga Swiatek speaking publicly about challenges with mental health and pressure. Whilst not strictly an ‘influencer’ as such, winning UFC Brit Paddy Pimblett used the opportunity of his interview to raise awareness of men’s mental health, and the stigma of speaking out. He spoke about his sadness about a child who had passed away from cancer and building on this, the shock of finding out a friend had committed suicide just before his match. The public and industry support for his speech shared on social platforms enabled the impact of Paddy’s message to spread further and more deeply than if it had simply aired on post-fight television.
Brand relationships with influencers: the new territory
So, what does this all mean for brands? Influencers are now sought to reflect reality, not deflect it. In addition to this, unlike more traditional forms of marketing and advertising, where control over the brand image, messaging and positioning is key, to be successful in influencer marketing, brands have to let go. No longer can they ‘own’ the messaging and voice of an influencer they partner with, and instead the relationship becomes far more symbiotic. And perhaps this is where agencies come in. Our role has to become far more consultative, reassuring brands of the trust in this relationship, and the benefits of authenticity. Influencer marketing can change perceptions of your brand, and drive sales, but only if you allow your target audience to be free to talk about you in their own way.