Samsung's top US marketer says ad agencies should feel threatened by influencers

Increasingly, the phone maker has been working directly with YouTube influencers to promote its products

Samsung’s top US marketer Marc Mathieu has suggested that agencies should see social influencers as a threat to their business models as brands seek more direct ways to have conversations with their audiences.

Increasingly, the phone maker has been working directly with YouTube influencers to promote its products. One of its most significant marketing campaigns in the last two years has come from its work with Casey Neistat – a YouTuber with 7.8 million subscribers and a combined 3.5 million on Facebook and Instagram – who Mathieu described as the brand’s "creator in chief".

It now puts such provenance on these non-traditional creators that in February, Samsung used the coveted Oscars ad slot to introduce Hollywood to what the brand is calling as the "new makers" - a generation of content creators empowered by the rise of mobile.

Speaking to The Drum recently at Dmexco in Germany, Mathieu said: “The reality is that the tension is not between the brands and agencies, but more between marketers and audiences, and more and more [marketers] are working [directly] with people like Casey."

Although topics like in-housing and efficiency drives from big name brands like Unilever and P&G were key concerns for many at the conference, Mathieu said he is less worried about these trends and more about how to foster this relationship with these content creators.

The marketer's comments come as fresh research from data science firm 4C Insights which revealed that agencies themselves as fretting about their place in the ecosystem. Of the 200 media agency professionals questioned, 84% said they were concerned about their agency's value, with a 41% noting that they needed to be more creative in the way they service brands.

The electronic giant's relationship with Neistat goes well beyond the typical promotional briefs brands hand to influencers. He doesn't just front their ads, or showcase products, he creates full videos on YouTube using Samsung's products.

However, one of the challenges in working with creators of this ilk is the nuances associated with signposting content and making sure it is clear when videos are sponsored or part of an ongoing commercial relationship.

Samsung and Neistat faced a backlash recently over after the latter worked on a video called 'First Day of Summer' which he later had to make clearer was an ad.

When asked for further comment on how it deals with these challenges Samsung failed to respond.

Mathieu, however, is hopeful that there is still a space for agencies in Samsung's mix – pointing, to the fact it worked with its incumbent creative shop W+K Portland on the Neistat Ocsars ad.

"But the reality is that [creators] have a real command of their story and the way they can create that story with our devices," he added, noting that Samsung knows it’s in the fortunate position to manufacture "storytelling machines" like phones and cameras, which have helped facilitate this trend.

"The more sophisticated they are, the more they become a creation tool and a canvas for people to tell their story and tell their truth; that’s what I think is a big gamechanger in our industry," he asserted.

For all his assurances to agencies, Samsung will be ramping up this kind of marketing. Since the Galaxy Note 7 exploding battery PR crisis last year, Mathieu has been working to against a "new marketing playbook” that aims to create an emotional connection between individuals and the devices they hold in their hands every day.

Mathieu was coy about how this is being measured – saying both brand awareness, and business metrics like sales are being taken into consideration, but behind-the-scenes it would seem its creator-centric strategy is reaping rewards.

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