Unilever is urging the industry to forge long-term “purposeful” relationships with influencers and monitor KPIs other than reach in order to tackle fraud in the sector.
The conglomerate’s executive vice president for global media, Luis Di Como, added strategic colour to chief executive Keith Weed’s promises made in Cannes this year: namely that Unilever will never buy followers or work with influencers that buy followers.
Di Como confirmed that Unilever will continue to ramp up its investment in influencer marketing space in line with the 65% of companies that plan to do the same over the next year. He noted that solving follower fraud would be critical to the success of that growth.
The EVP believes issues of fraud, dishonesty and malpractice in the influencer space can be partially mitigated by forging “authentic and long-term, purposeful relationships with influencers” and finding an affinity with the people behind the camera.
“I think we need to move on from this one-all transactional, commercial relationship with ... creators or influencers,” he told an audience at Advertising Week New York. “We need to create really much more long-term partnerships with all of them.”
It’s a theory that’s previously been put forward by industry commentators such as Cristina Sarraille, senior strategist at We Are Social. She explained longer partnerships between brands and creators are mutually beneficial from the latter’s point of view, too.
“We often see influencers jumping from one brand to another in search of short-term (financial) gains,” said Sarraille. “However, this ultimately undermines their audience’s trust and can devalue your brand's efforts.”
For brands, a long-term relationship may be an unintended consequence of vetting systems that are becoming popular with brands looking to combat fraud. L’Oréal now has a formal process to make sure its influencer partners are both aligned to the brand and followed by legitimate accounts, and Unilever has established a similar system.
“We have ... the selecting process and the vetting process to make the match between influencers and brand values,” he said. “And after that, we go deeper with that particular influencer [to find] fake followers, fraud or malpractices that maybe they're not even aware [are] happening.”
Di Como explained that Unilever has pushed these partnerships even further in particular markets and has begun treating influencers like boutique agencies. In Latin America, for instance, it is co-creating product lines with influencers and marketing them entirely through influencer marketing. An unintended consequence of the latter means measurement becomes an easy task, as there is only one platform to scrape.
“In other markets we look at our brand positioning and look into the right influencer with the brand fit,” he said. “But both of those processes are great – it depends on the business objectives and goals.”
Di Como is also tackling influencer fraud by instilling a culture wherein reach is no longer the key KPI. The “obsession” with the likes of follower counts and views has been to the detriment of the industry, he contends, and believes Unilever has a certain responsibility to stand against the practice.
“We would be blind to follow one KPI that will create behaviours in the industry for dishonest business,” he said. “I found that is absolutely crazy that some people are going down that path and we are being much more vocal on those kinds of things.”
He added that the perfect metric mix for monitoring influencer campaign effectiveness is still unclear, however: “I believe we are still in the early stages and we need to continue working with influencers to set what measurement and success look like to create a mutual benefit partnership rooted in transparency and trust.”