Vox Pop: How much creative freedom should brands give influencers? (Part 2)

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Clockwise from top-left: Likefriends, Think Jam, Iris, REDPILL, Liberty, iCrossing, RAPP, PrettyGreen, BWP, Scoop & Spoon

Since trading evolved into the art of business, companies have fashioned their history and ethos into a story that customers can follow. Yet, while the rise of influencer marketing proves itself as a great way to market a product in the technological era, brands' personality is getting left behind.

We asked our Drum Network agency members,"as influencer marketing becomes a popular choice of promotion, the product becomes an accessory of the person in the spotlight. Should influencers be given creative freedom to advertise a product or does being the main feature write a better story for a brand?"

Following on from Part 1 of the influencer marketing Vox Pop, which went live earlier this week, here is what 10 of our agencies had to say:

Jen Musgreave, planning partner, RAPP UK

With influencer marketing, the product enters the influencer’s world. If that world is right for the product this can be a positive association and can build the brand. It’s all about borrowed stature; for a new brand, or one without a significant backstory, it could be enough to boost growth significantly – the review and recommendation is coming from the influencer who lends the brand their credibility.

Conversely, for a brand with heritage and significant stature, the product will build the influencer’s reach and status. Imagine a reasonably popular YouTube vlogger toting a Burberry handbag and crowing about its soft leather and detailing. The vlogger’s reputation is enhanced by the prestige of the brand, not vice versa. If the two are equal in ‘rank’ they both benefit.

In many ways, you could call this the new class system!

Rob McCardle, innovation director, BWP Group

They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity (except your own obituary). However, not every product is compatible with this idea.

The modern celebrity has largely done away with the distinction between fame and infamy, but there is such a thing as bad influence and brands need to be cautious before giving any influencer absolute freedom to say whatever they want.

How much creative license can be delegated will always depend on the product, audience, agency and approval processes, but generally we believe that as younger generations' attitudes pervade society and they acquire more buying power, their preferences will become the norm. This will lead to storytelling with the traits of being emotive, personal, original and authentic having more value for brands, even if it comes at the expense of their product not being seen as ‘the main feature’.

Rachel Bloom, digital retail strategist, Liberty Marketing

There needs to be an element of both. The brand should define a clear brief of the messaging, but as the best content creators are experts in engaging their audience, creative freedom needs to lie with the influencer. Content created around a product appears more organic when weaved into the influencer’s existing content style.

Audiences are more savvy than ever before and often approach ‘sponsored’ content with caution. Anything that comes across as forced or disingenuous often receives a negative reaction and can sometimes render the whole exercise pointless.

The success of a feature often depends on an influencer’s existing relationship with a brand and whether the product looks out of place, so it’s important to look at it on a case by case basis. Brands should have good visibility of an influencer’s position in the market before approaching them to ensure they get the best ROI.

Allyson Griffiths, strategy director, iCrossing

It’s a fine line to tread. On one hand, by your product appearing as one of several products in a single post or video, you risk not getting the desired cut through with the influencer’s audience. On the other hand, it comes across more authentic than if your chosen influencer creates a whole blog post, video or series of social posts about your product and your product alone.

One of the reasons for the recent rise in micro-influencers is this now perceived lack of authenticity from top influencers; their audiences are getting wise to the fact they are being paid large sums of money to create content singling out a brand’s product, which is impacting the one thing that has made influencer marketing a boon in the last couple of years: trust – which is the magic formula for influencer marketing. Match a great product with the right influencer and they will organically rave about it without you as a brand needing to be prescriptive about formula. This is how to generate real results.

Emma Carson, Nando’s account director, PrettyGreen

Content creation by influencers for brands is a grey area; they know what content turns their audience on and what turns them off, but they are often less sensitive to the nuances of a brand's messaging and what brands need in the relationship. However, brands need to learn to let go more.

As soon as it starts to look like branded content, it may as well say ‘advertising promotion’, ‘sponsored editorial’, ‘I sold out’, 'call me QVC’. It's a huge turn off for these audiences and the influencer. Our job as PR practitioners is to help them craft stories about our brands and clients with their own voice and in their own image, to match make brands to influencers and manage engaging ‘editorial’ style content – not branded ads that could appear anywhere.

Sami Westwood, publicity and partnerships director, Think Jam

Any brand working with influencers should always view this promotion as a collaboration, with the creative side led by the influencer. If a brand is working with an influencer, it is because they want to talk to and engage with a specific audience. This is an audience which has been attracted and maintained by that person – they are aware of the content that will and will not work. Careful selection, for example, checking whether the brand or anything related to the brand has been positively mentioned before and clear communication around the treatment, should create a piece of content that will engage both the influencer audience and raise awareness of the brand.

Digby Lewis, head of platforms and distribution, Iris

Far too often, brands still view influencers as some sort of alt-broadcast media channel. This leads to the sort of ‘grip and grin’ product moments that induce burning embarrassment in both host and viewer. As a result, these relationships rarely extend beyond the branded equivalent of an awkward one-night stand.

There is no one-size-for-all solution, but brands should only engage influencers who share the same views and beliefs and can articulate these in a way that feels natural and consistent with their regular output. In some instances, the product has an obvious role in the influencer’s content. In others, it’s a subtler alignment of what the influencer and brand stands for and you don’t need to see the product in vision all the time.

Brikena Sela-Qerkini, digital marketing manager, SCOOP & SPOON

I strongly believe that whole rise of influencer marketing is largely because influencers have now found a way to shine a new light on branded products and promotions without irritating their audience. Today, readers and viewers are able to see these products showcased and used in such various manners and it is finally coming in from someone they are engaged in and trust, rather than just the brand.

This type of content marketing gives the product its own authenticity, because the information is given in unique and distinctive ways, depending on the influencer and their audience. When you allow the influencer the creative freedom to present the product how they feel is best, it not only makes for a more genuine read and product promotion, but also may give the product as its brand another image – one that the brand may not have been able to achieve alone.

Martijn Ros, head of strategy, Likefriends

You can look at marketing through influencers from at least two perspectives. Either you see influencers as a media-channel that you push your product through, or as spokespersons, whose character reflects your brands' values and amplify your message with their own tone and style.

Arguably, the first approach would not bring you more than what traditional advertising already did. The simple question then is what’s more efficient – pushing targeted ads or using influencers?

However, when the right influencer endorses a product in a natural way, we utilise the effect of the desire to be like the person one admires, and a product becoming cool or relevant because he or she uses it. For that, it’s vital the audience feels that the influencer really chose your product, and for that it’s necessary that the influencer gets enough creative freedom to feature the product in a way he or she thinks is best.

Liam Corrigan, creative director, REDPILL

The brand will know the product, and the influencer will know their audience. There are lines (assuming they’ve been communicated between the brand, agency and influencer), and keeping this in mind during the creative process is of utmost importance – that’s assuming there is a creative process.

So many influencer ‘deals’ are done on a whim for vanity views. For a campaign that truly showcases your brand or product, you need to collaborate creatively with the influencer. This takes time, graft and a genuine understanding of each other’s position. The best campaigns benefit both brand and influencer, creating a link between them in the viewer’s mind. To this end, finding the right influencer is paramount. Would the influencer represent your brand but for the money? That’s a pertinent question.

Read part 3 of this Vox Pop here.

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