Analysis: how influencer culture is embracing authenticy
Wearable technology? E-tail? The pandemic? Maximalism? They’ve all been key in recent years but if the past decade has been all about anything, it’s been the rise of fashion and beauty influencer culture.
But should that actually be “the rise and fall” -- and perhaps the rise again -- of influencer culture? In some ways the wheels have started to come off the celebrity influencer wagon while this key area of marketing is changing.
We all know influencers can shift product and drive trends. Whether its New Look tracking a 162% spike in searches for ‘black maxi dress’ since Selena Gomez appeared in one of the Golden Globes red carpet this week; a Lyst report detailing how sales of ‘Label X’ spiked after being seen on Bella Hadid, Harry Styles or Zendaya; or a recent report that said the stars of hit show Wednesday can earn tens of thousands from a single product-pushing Instagram post (FYI, top-billed Jenna Ortega can earn over £98,000 per sponsored post and has added 26 million+ new Instagram followers since the series launched).
But hooking up with influencers has proved to be a far-from-trouble-free process for brands. Adidas and Gap took massive hits as they extricated themselves from deals with scandal-hit Kanye West (he himself said he lost $2 billion worth of deals in a single day). And Balenciaga’s own recent scandal saw mega-influencer Kim Kardashian “re-evaluating” her involvement with it after it apologised for ads featuring kids holding teddy bears wearing what critics said was bondage gear. Add to that any number of sports stars scoring publicity own goals and losing brand deals.
And the filing for bankruptcy protection of Morphe owner Forma Brands is another example of how linking up with influencers can come back to bite a business.
Its marketing strategy leant heavily on Youtube and social media stars such as James Charles, Jaclyn Hill and Jeffree Star whose presence at a store opening could cause traffic gridlock and the kind of adoring crowd usually reserved for pop star appearances.
Influencers helped revenues top a reported $400 million pre-pandemic. But Morphe cut ties with Star and Charles after allegations of racist language in the first case and misconduct in the second.
That report about the earning power of the Wednesday stars and various end/start-of-year studies about who are the biggest names at the moment show that celebrity influencers still offer huge value.
And data from Influencer Marketing Hub suggests that influencer marketing continues to grow fast, expanding to a massive $16.4 billion industry last year, from $13.8 billion in 2021.
Yet we live in a different environment to the one when mega-influencers were driving Morphe sales ever higher.
Some insiders think 2023 will be more about ‘micro-influencers’ (more of which later) than those with follower numbers in the multi-millions — although there’s no denying that ‘self-made’ micro-influencers like Alix Earle can leap into multi-million follower category very quickly and have a huge impact on what their fans buy.
That’s linked to changing consumer mindsets. The pandemic saw influencers (and brands) who flaunted a luxury lifestyle to locked-down consumers facing a backlash and many pivoted to more feel-good and supportive posts. And growing sustainability awareness plus the cost-of-living crisis are amplifying that trend.
Just this month, eBay UK returned as key sponsor for ultimate influencer-based TV show Love Island this month. Last year’s shift to a focus on pre-owned away from fast fashion was a risk for the show and the e-tail giant, but it paid off. And a whole new slew of influencers emerged from the show promoting second-hand rather than disposable fashion.
Not convinced? ITV’s research that showed 53% of viewers who were aware of the partnership bought second-hand clothes in the past three months. Since the announcement of the partnership last May, eBay has attracted 1,600% more searches for ‘pre-loved clothes’ compared with the previous year, while Google searches for the same phrase were up 170%, ITV said. Those numbers were boosted by viewing figures of five million for the summer final in 2022.
STILL LOVING LUXE
Fast fashion may have something of an image problem at present, but luxury is still riding high, helped by big investments in sustainability, canny marketing, and the fact that luxury items are the ultimate ‘buy-and-wear-forever’ pieces.
New research conducted among UK consumers aged 20-29 may have shown that Love Island was the most influential TV show in 2022. But the study also named Zendaya, Maya Jama and Hailey Bieber as the key female influencers with rapper Dave and Harry Styles inspiring men’s fashion choices. And that means plenty of posts showing said stars wearing Gucci, Valentino, Molly Goddard and more are having a huge impact on consumers.
And talking of TV shows, the ongoing importance of luxury can be seen from the fact that Emily in Paris was last year’s second-most-searched fashion-linked TV show, while dripping-in-designers Sex And The City is among the top TV shows of all time that are searched for fashion.
That’s according to Boohoo research that analysed Google search data for various search terms associated with fashion, style and outfits for every new and recurring TV show.
Yet it’s interesting that Euphoria — and its Y2K fashion focus — was top of the list. Around the world, people search for terms associated with Euphoria’s fashion a huge 132,900 times per month.
And Stranger Things was the third most fashionable show of the year. From bold hairdos to denim-on-denim, it influenced an 80s fashion resurgence and receives 28,800 average searches a month for fashion-related searches.
Clearly, influencer TV shows have flipped from the label-obsessed era of SATC to the more eclectic and authentic mood epitomised by Euphoria and Stranger Things. And while those shows’ stars may be able to monetise their appearances and score deals with big-name labels, they need to take care as they do so.
Room Unlocked, a value exchange marketplace in which brands swap products or experiences for exposure from influential people, had conducted a study that claims “social media users have lost faith in influencers who are driven by commercial gain and lack authenticity”.
Co-founder Alex Payne, who’s also a Sky Sports host, said more people than ever are trying to get into the influence boom and the industry finds itself at a crossroads. Viewers are now craving authenticity and expecting more from the creators they follow.
It commissioned a study recently and found 64% of consumers it spoke to in the UK “have lost respect for" influencers who are just in it for the money.
In fact, not only are 60% of UK consumers not influenced by those who “flaunt their wares on social media”, but they find them “infuriating”.
The company said “influencers across the board are facing [a] backlash due to out-of-touch content. With two-thirds of UK consumers planning to cut non-essentials in 2023, according to KPMG, influencers will be expected to tailor the content they post and ensure their content is well-timed in the current climate”.
As a result, Room Unlocked believes micro-influencers “will continue to grow their following as they feel more relatable to their niche audiences”. It said that smaller influencers “are more engaged and connected with their followers, as opposed to the macro-influencers who may not have the time to follow up with the thousands of messages they receive”.
This mean brands that micro-influencers work with are usually more related to them and their niche, and they might genuinely use their product or service, whereas larger content creators may promote any product or service just for the money.
This doesn’t mean that influencer marketing will move to niche platforms, however. Room Unlocked also said “it's likely that spend on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok will continue to play a big part. More creators and business owners are expected to increase their ad spend to get more visibility as organic reach decreases”.
And investment in short video content will continue to be key with platforms such as TikTok seeing a constant growing trend and reaching 9.2 million users this year in the UK, according to Digimind.
And though all of this, authenticity will remain the watchword, especially for those targeting Gen Z. Data from Room Unlocked shows 47% of young adults say they can’t relate to or identify with any influencers who are insincere. “Genuine and unfiltered content will continue reshaping the internet and the way we consume social media,” it added.
CASE STUDY: ALIX EARLE
Earlier I mentioned Alix Earle. Influencer marketing company Ubiquitous has been looking at her as just one example of a micro-influencer with a big focus on authenticity and video and has become famous in the process.
Just one video from Earle can cause searches for a product to skyrocket by 100% on Google Trends.
So who is this new star? She’s a 22-year-old influencer who’s added over a million followers in just a month. Now, with 3.5 million followers, she’s known for her ‘hot mess’ approach to influencing, authenticity, and her ‘get ready with me’ videos.
Ubiquitous found that the marketing student can drive search traffic for a product from 0 to 100, after just one TikTok video.
It researched every product in her make-up routine and some of the most noticeable items from her Amazon recommendation videos, hair routine, eyelash routine, brand deals, and her nail salon vlogs.
Of the 33 items, 10 of them were now sold out, while a majority of the remaining products had been sold out at some point after she created a video featuring the item. And every item on the list had seen search interest skyrocket to over 70 on the Google Trends index, with 26 of the 33 items increasing to 100.
Most products on the list began with a search interest of 0-43, so she could increase search for products by 100% in just 24 hours and just one three-minute video.
Earle herself saw Google Trend search interest for her name spike from almost consistently 0 to 100 in just one month — from December 2022 to January 2023.
So what’s her secret? Jeremy Boudinet, the Senior Director of Growth at Ubiquitous, said: “While other influencers have seen similar rapid periods of growth (such as some of the most-followed TikTok content creators, Charli D’Amelio an Addison Rae) what likely separates Alix is her emphasis on authenticity and her daily beauty-based content and vlogs.
“Her style of content exemplifies everything that makes influencer marketing work so well. There is a sense of immediacy and non-pretentiousness you get from her content. One member of our team remarked that it feels like you’re watching a cool big sister get ready on FaceTime and tell you about her day in the process. This has quickly built a sort of trusting, friendly familiarity with her audience—so when she makes product recommendations, it feels like hearing about something from a friend.
“By creating content focused on her struggles with acne and anxiety and showing off her messy bedroom, her audience gets the sense that she is eminently relatable. At the same time, they get to see her look amazing and attend fantastic events and trips.
“The relatability she creates with her honesty makes her glamorous life feel almost attainable - ‘she struggles just like me’, they might think — ‘maybe I can be that beautiful too’. So when she incorporates a product into her daily routine (rather than creating content that feels like an ad) it’s no wonder that her audience rushes out to buy it.”
The point is too that she has a lesson for influencer link-ups with celebrities too: these days, selfish over-consumption and flaunting of luxury, plus ‘I’m too famous to care’ attitudes are out of fashion. What counts at all levels of the market is authenticity and sustainability.
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