Influencer Marketing: What You Get and What You Sacrifice

“Common sense is the genius of humanity.” — Johanne Von Goethe

Influencer marketing is one of those things that has been around forever. In recent years it became a “new” buzzword in marketing circles due to the phenomenon of social media. Intelligent marketers, however, have striven to influence influencers since the dawn of time.

In this blog post I wanted to talk about influencer marketing as I see it, including pros and cons.

When I was hired in 1987 to take over the advertising role for The Chromaline Corporation (now Ikonics) the first thing I did was contact the editors of each of the seven magazines in the screenprinting industry. I wanted to learn about the publications so as to determine what roles they played in the industry. I was also laying the groundwork to build relationships with these industry influencers.

Types of Influencers

There are many kinds of influencers. Celebrities, for example, come in all kinds of packages with all kinds of price structures. NASCAR is famous for its established sponsorship systems, but the same logo placement opportunities exist right here in our own local race tracks in Ashland, Hibbing, Proctor and Superior, on a much more affordable scale. Or if seeking to reach a different kind of audience you may consider being a sponsor of music and arts events.

Magazines have traditionally been highly influential to their loyal readers. In the auto industry some editors are themselves practically rock stars. There are tech editors whose words and opinions have nearly as much authority as the Bible. In the social media realm there are bloggers and YouTube videographers with clout as well.

Pros and Cons

If you do a search for pros and cons of celebrity endorsements you’ll find lots of links. Here’s a mashup of pros and cons that I gleaned from several sources.

Potential Pros of Celeb Endorsements
(1) Build credibility; (2) Makes brand stand out; (3) Opens new markets; (4) Helps personify your brand; (5) Builds trust through emotional connection with brand; (6) Shorter time frame to brand recognition; (7) It doesn’t appear pushy.

Cons of Celeb Endorsements
(1) Images change; (2) May overshadow brand; (3) Celebrities are humans with feet of clay; (4) Can be expensive; (5) Loss of control. (They may not do it your way.) (6) Takes time to set up; (7) Difficult to measure effectiveness; (8) Involves employee time to manage.

The two biggest issues I have with paying a celebrity to say they love your product are these. First, since most people know the celebrity was paid to say they love your product it loses some of its authority. It takes a lot of work to make it authentic, and these days authenticity is the coin of the realm. If it isn’t real it can hurt your brand, hence the power of online review sites like Yelp, though even these have been manipulated.

Second, your celebrity endorser may have skeletons in the closet of which you are unaware. In 2007 the news broke that Atlanta Falcons’ Michael Vick was into the brutal sport of illegal dogfighting. The only good thing that came out of Vick’s conviction was that an ugly clandestine practice got exposed to the public eye. It did not help his sponsors in any positive way.

Because of the dicey nature of celebrity endorsement deals, the Leo Burnett ad agency out of Chicago invented characters like Tony the Tiger, the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Jolly Green Giant. To this day Tony the Tiger has never been accused of #MeToo behavior, nor has he embarrassed Kellogg’s by being drunk or stupid in public. Nor has he ever experimented with drugs or assaulted anyone. He’s always cheerful and ready to put in a good word for his sponsor.

In recent years influencer marketing has evolved into a hybrid form of content marketing. That is, brands build campaigns that are a collaboration with an influencer. Examples abound, such as the viral videos created by Red Bull and Monster energy drinks. (cf. Ken Block’s Gymkhana vids on YouTube)

Digital content marketer Daisy Quaker (formerly digital content manager at AMSOIL) notes that influencer marketing isn’t just limited to big brand sponsorships on social media and other channels. “Local business can get in on it, too. Some ideas include partnering with businesses that offer complementary services, or with people who have built an audience and influence in the local community. Done well, these collaborations can be more authentic and have a big impact at a relatively low cost.”

Karl Strom, 25-year editor for The Hearing Review, notes that he’s currently seeing influencer marketing in the hearing healthcare space with bloggers. “Some of my industry friends have loosely aligned themselves with certain manufacturers or services in exchange for ad/social media dollars,” says Strom.

“I think it’s a little risky, but if the company/product is one you have great confidence in, have worked with for a while, and you have no problem becoming an advocate for it, then maybe it’s a way to make a living off the blog or website while providing great information, as these two do.” Strom is quick to point out the risks. “Commercially, if they don’t play it on the level and fairly, they run the risk of pissing off potential advertisers. Also, if they suddenly find themselves in a scandal or have a huge QC problem, you might regret the decision and be placed in a tight spot.”

Bottom Line: Influential people or sources endorsing your product or service can be a real benefit, but go into these relationships with your eyes open. There are risks as well.

Ed Newman’s Marketing Desk columns are a regular staple of the regional publication Business North.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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