It is the time of year when Christmas lists start appearing around the house, left not very subtly so we can feign excitement and surprise on the big day but guarantee actual delight. The lists provide a window into the world of the ‘young person’ – a glimpse at what they most desire – and, when viewed over successive years, are revealing.
It is fascinating to see which items make a cameo appearance (remember loom bands?) and those which appear year after year (games, clothes, make-up, sports stuff, jewellery – if we are lucky, books and, as the years progress, vouchers and money).
Looking at the list of my 14-year-old step-daughter, what is most striking is not the surprise appearance of the Rubik’s Cube but the specificity of the brands requested. Take her make-up requests (Santa is being asked to bring a lot of make up). She hasn’t asked for any of the high-street brands that she and her mates use all the time and which she asked for last year. Neither has she asked for luxury ones she can’t afford. No, she has asked for a very particular, and as far as I am concerned quite obscure, brand.
When I asked her how she knew about it, she explained that a YouTuber she follows had recommended it. Said YouTuber had previously loved another brand and she was going to ask for that but then the YouTuber had “discovered” this one and loved it even more. Cue another conversation about how marketing works, punctuated with lots of eye-rolling on her part.
Paying influencers for plugs is going to damage your trust and love levels. It just puts money in their pockets.
It perfectly illustrates why I think influencer marketing is largely pointless. The first make-up brand thought that by paying an influencer it was engaging with its target audience, but another brand paid the influencer more and a week later, boom – the influencer likes that one better.
Identifying the right messenger to carry messages to your target audience is a key element of effective marketing. I completely understand why YouTubers, reality TV stars and celebrities with their millions of Instagram followers can seem like a really great way of engaging with your audience. But the problem is that when people are clearly being paid to promote something (and you are in a whole heap of regulatory trouble if it isn’t clear) it impinges on their authenticity.
Now, my 14-year-old might not care about authenticity (yet) but more sophisticated consumers do. And for brand owners it should be a primary concern. Paying influencers for plugs is going to damage your trust and love levels. It just puts money in their pockets.
So what is the alternative? Where you can develop proper relationships with relevant influencers?
In the months before we launched ‘This Girl Can’ while I was at Sport England, we invested lots of time talking to people who we thought might be supporters and who might use their own influence to support the campaign.
We didn’t pay them and we didn’t ask them to do anything in particular but almost all of them did. People like Clare Balding, who loved the campaign and used her own book tour to promote it, talking about it on every TV sofa she sat on. She was a great ambassador for the brand, all the more powerful because no money changed hands – her support was authentic.
More recently, Emma Thompson wore a Fawcett Society Equal Pay badge to her investiture as a dame (she also wore trainers – the woman is a legend). Fawcett didn’t ask her or pay her to wear it. She chose to do it because she felt aligned to the organisation and the message. As a result, Fawcett saw a spike in donations and membership.
This isn’t something commercial brands can easily achieve. So to them, there is the option of going a bit old-school and think about partnerships with relevant organisations. Miniature model makers, punky mums, teenage girls into Lego and 1980s music – there is a group out there.
The advantage of working with these types of groups is that, if your product is relevant to them today, it will be relevant to them tomorrow. You can build long-term campaigns to support your brand, which encourage engagement and build brand love.
Or you could carry on paying money to the latest vlogger, with no loyalty to your brand and whose shelf life is dangerously short. Barely was the ink dry on the Christmas list when the 14-year-old decided not only did she not want that make-up, she thought the YouTuber was really boring and has moved on.