We Get the Influencers We Deserve

By On Influence and Influencers Archives
Cover image for  article: We Get the Influencers We Deserve

Recently the world of marketing was rocked by its latest mini-scandal when fashion influencer and Goop employee Marissa Fuchs participated in a surprise wedding proposal.  Proposals often come with a bit of planning and the element of surprise, but even by rom-com-proposal-in-a-crowded-stadium standards, this went beyond the pale.  Fuchs went on a multi-day scavenger hunt culminating in the surprise proposal and her 200K followers went along for the ride.  The only wrinkle was that the entire episode was a well-crafted marketing stunt with full brand participation.  Fuchs was able to use her influencer following to entice brands to get on board and sponsor portions of the trips, provide products, venues and so on.  Once the story broke that the "surprise" was anything but, many people felt betrayed, and the blowback was immediate.  As trust in influencers wanes, even as marketing budgets increase, is it time to wonder if we get the influencers we deserve?

It's easy to jump on fraudsters like Fuchs and the crew that put together the viral disaster Fyre Festival.  Types like Fuchs and Fyre are easy villains, using their influence and their celebrity status to dupe the guileless masses.  However, what if the blame doesn't actually lay with them?   After all, they, and others like them, are only playing by the long-established rules of the game.

Over the years, marketers have staked out an essential toehold in the influencer-marketing category.  Once a niche option, influencers have now become a significant part of most brands' marketing mix.  Identifying the "right" influencer to align with your brand and raise awareness is almost essential.  Marketers have both budgets and a mandate, as well as consistent pressure to produce results.  This is a perfect mix for the type of thoughtless shenanigans that encourage people like Fuchs to stick their hands in the marketing cookie jar.

As the adage says, "Don't hate the player, hate the game" -- and this game is rigged.  A lot of mainstream influence has relied on and flourished because of its fakeness.  In essence, it is the lie we all agree upon.  How can there be surprise, shock or outrage when most of the industry is predicated upon a digital sleight of hand to keep it all running?  Marketers shouldn't be mad at the Fuchs and Fyre Festivals of the world; they should be angry at themselves. 

Industry outrage at these situations is similar to the NBA instituting the now infamous "one and done rule" regarding incoming rookies.  Instead of eligible players being able to go to the NBA from high school, they are now required to attend at least one year of college.  NBA franchises had to be protected from themselves, as the logic held; given a chance to draft young, untested players they would.  However, a higher percentage of those younger players would fail, burdening teams with unwanted contracts stretching into the future.  Unfortunately, when it comes to working with influencers, there is no one to protect marketers from themselves.

Avoiding these types of incidents isn't a challenge if brand priorities are in the right place.  Influence needs to be de-emphasized as a siloed marketing strategy and, instead, adopted as a more comprehensive initiative to understand culture.  Brand thinking driven by insights from in-depth cultural study would help marketers position themselves as stewards rather than gentrifiers.

Brands have become too accustomed to taking short cuts to achieve dubious results.  A long-term strategy requires that they rewire their way of thinking to make better decisions.  The industry has labored under the kind of thinking that confuses impressions for meaning and engagement for love.  There is nothing inherently wrong with measurement, but in a rush to quantify there is a risk in losing sight of the elements that make deep connections.

By pursuing the most superficial degrees of measurement, brands not only reward but also encourage bad actors.  Until there is a significant shift toward a cultural strategy rooted in shared values and a brand messaging of meaning, expect more of the same.  Just don't act surprised when you see it.

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