Its former head of US marketing once suggested that influencers could replace ad agencies, but Samsung’s global chief marketing officer has voiced concerns and said the brand is rowing back on its investments in that area.
Under Marc Mathieu – who left the business in March – the smartphone maker siphoned millions of dollars into forging relationships with social creators. One of the biggest was with Casey Neistat – a YouTuber with 11.3 million subscribers and a combined four million on Facebook and Instagram – who Mathieu hailed as the brand’s "creator in chief" after he made and starred in its Oscars ad.
However, global marketing boss Younghee Lee, told The Drum she’s “sceptical” of influencer marketing.
“I'm very pessimistic about it,” she added. “We don't just want to buy them with money. That's not going to be sustainable.”
Her comments came at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, where she shared Samsung's intention to pivot the business to target “Gen Z”. Based on the results of a comprehensive study, she said it’s a generation that will see through any inauthentic attempts to connect with them.
A recent global study into the attitudes of 56,000 people by media agency UM found that just 42% of respondents trust bloggers and vloggers for product recommendations.
The global suspicion around influencers comes as consumers and regulators continue to ask questions about the opacity of brand-influencer deals and the veracity of creators' large followings.
In the UK, the government has tightened up the rules around declaring paid-for content online. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), meanwhile, also cautioned 'hundreds' of influencers and brands for breaking strict guidelines around paid for posts on the likes of Instagram over the past few years.
The FTC has taken similar action in the US to usher more transparency into the space.
“This generation wants [brands] to be more real, authentic and organic,” Lee said.
“The more I encounter our local marketing programmes and sometimes I see huge budgets for influencer marketing... no, no, no. Sometimes it's necessary, but it’s more a real person, your neighbour, that we're looking for.”
What Lee is hinting at is a move to working with people of influence within local communities rather than a homogenous set of Instagram stars. Samsung has set up a series of hubs around the world where people can buy the latest hardware, and, more importantly, participate in activities and take lessons in everything from photography and filmmaking to art.
“It’s not a store; it’s a community cultural space,” she said of the concept.
Samsung opened one in Tokyo in March, an eight-story tower that welcomes thousands of visitors a day. It’s readying for the next opening in London’s King’s Cross later this year.
“It’s an exciting project; I’m deeply involved. It will be a great example of how we imagine an ‘experience’ space,” she said.