Influencers now a vital part of the creative department

By Alec Harden-Henry, Commercial Director, Influence Network.

When studios are closed, new creative talent is hard to come by and multi-person location shoots are off-limits where should you turn?

For those brands who were quick to react, influencers have appeared to be an increasingly acceptable answer.

Where once a ‘creative’ would have been a core member of staff, sitting on site with a powerful Mac, a suite of editing software and a significant camera, brands are coming around to the idea that an influencer with a new iPhone can get results too. As cited in this Ogilvy Whitepaper “When other forms of production are unable to function, influencers can be used as at-home creation houses.”

The marketplace has been moving that way for a while. Like a lot of things though, the COVID pandemic has forced change and even the more ‘traditional’ brands have embraced what, for them, may be unusual tactics. One of our own agency partners had been talking to their client about influencer marketing for two years without ever getting any activations over the line. Within four weeks of lockdown we were running a live micro-influencer campaign for them.

A report in the print version of The Sunday Times back in May (17/5/20) claimed that advertising spending by retailers increased 200% in the week the government announced lockdown, yet revenues for print advertising fell by 38%, billboards by 22% and radio by 20%. Where then, did brands go?

As we all spent more time locked in our homes and less time on the tube or in town centres, brands gravitated towards those who had the power to reach us there. Influencers were an obvious option for many and not only because our ability to interact with them was unaffected by our inability to leave our homes.

It’s often an overlooked fact that influencers are, at their core, hugely creative people. Many influencers start off with a passionate interest in a creative discipline; cookery, fashion, design, beauty and photography are all common focal points. As that passion is taken online and honed, our view of the individual changes. They’re no longer a creative soul with an Instagram account: they’re an influencer.

Somewhat forced into working with influencers due to COVID, brands are becoming aware that working with influencers means more than hiring a route to market. They’re also hiring a creative.

You can see the evidence in brand materials and campaigns across a broad spectrum of sectors. Where once a product or campaign aimed at children might have meant a studio shoot with child actors and models, now the photos are from a ‘mum blogger’ drafted in to work on the campaign with her kids. Where perhaps a celebrity chef might have been involved, now the imagery comes from an an innovative chef who has been furloughed but is still creating from their own kitchen, joining the 13 million other users of the #homecooking hashtag.

The awakening for brands is that, in terms of quality, the end result now shows little difference from the old normal. Remember: many influencers were already creatives before they became influencers. They know how to use a camera, how to set up lighting and how to use Photoshop. What sets them apart and has become far more interesting for brands is that the influencer’s content is curated for a very specific audience – their own carefully crafted audience – and whilst that is likely to mean far more engaging and relatable content, it will certainly be more authentic than a pre-planned idea, conceived in a studio and shot by actors far removed from that very specific audience.

As we look for trends and the ‘long tail’ impact of COVID on the marketing world, it’s easy to predict that the move towards influencer marketing is going to stick. What might be less predicted, but just as accurate, is that who you choose to use as your key creatives on a campaign, and where you look for them, may also be about to change for good.

Photo by John Jennings on Unsplash

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