“You get the politicians you deserve”, was Barack Obama’s response to the tumultuous geo-political events of 2016. And while the NY Times investigation into the fraudulent activities of Devumi exposes the scam that masquerades as “influencer marketing”, a similar accusation could be said of our industry where celebrity and influence are concerned.
Because for too long, the promise of success to marketers has been shrouded in a more convoluted arrangement of smoke and mirrors than David Copperfield’s last stand.
As advertising has been disrupted by technology and social media, drawing eyeballs and users who lean forward, back and any which way other than toward a prime time commercial break, so agencies have sought new ways to back-fill the need for fame and perceived attention. In the process, they have desperately clung on to the only metric they understand: gross volume.
Shovelling fuel into this pit of fake success are the social platforms, who have promised reach on an unprecedented scale. A few years back, it started with video views. Incredibly, there are still meetings going on now where the success of a campaign is measured by the number of views ‘served'.
The culture of celebrity has always been a grubby business, whether grotesquely captured in Kenneth Anger’s 'Hollywood Babylon’, the infamous "sidebar of shame" or the quick-fire pages of TMZ.
The rise of social spawned a new era of celebrities, those with direct relationships to a home-grown audience; kids who spoke from their bedrooms, straight down the lens into the homes of millions of fans around the world.
But as this became a multi-billion dollar global industry, it was always going to be open to abuse as long as we failed to develop and trade on a meaningful measurement of success. Is it any wonder that a virtual world is filled with fake identities and fake content?
A publicly visible follower count is the obvious root of the problem and it is the reason Devumi and their like exist. Publishers have to report monthly traffic scores, app developers focus on DAUs and MAUs. Therefore, available active follower stats would be step in the right direction.
But marketers and agencies can no longer claim to be blind to the nonsense of influencer marketing and the myth of “reach”. Consumers are increasingly resistant to brand messages and are able to sniff out inauthentic brand BS in an instant.
As an advertiser, if you’re basing an approach purely on number of followers you’re not looking beyond the façade. If you’re an agency, at best, you're absolving your responsibility and worse, perpetuating the fraud.
The importance of understanding true influence, whether through trusted peer recommendations or niche communities has never been more important. The success of Adidas’ invite-only Glitch football boot launch shows how you can get your market to do your marketing for you when you don’t need to rely on fake followers.
Digby Lewis, is executive director of content for Iris