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Competitive Life-styling: Digital Marketers and the Influencer

With online social platforms emerging as the most prominent way in which people express their identity, it is no wonder that marketers are drawn to these spaces to promote their products and services.

If 2016 proved anything, it's that the western world is undergoing a crisis of identity; it sees its own as under attack, or lacking one entirely. Since the post-war advertising ‘boom’, a common refrain has been that advertising tells people what they want, who they are, and offers a way for the individual to see themselves reflected in a product. This has only become more relevant in the twenty first century, as social media and internet culture rely on individuals cultivating their online image to adequately display to the entire world who they are, to which faction they belong, which cultures and sub-cultures they identify with.

With online social platforms emerging as the most prominent way in which people express their identity, it is no wonder that marketers are drawn to these spaces to promote their products and services. ‘Influencers’ are only growing in importance and number, as anyone with a social media presence which reaches beyond their immediate circles, gaining followers simply by creating an image to aspire to, could justifiably claim the title.

The ‘social media echo chamber’; a term describing the way in which people who are engaged on social media platforms are surrounded by views and opinions which tend to agree with their own, exists thanks to the work of content-tailoring algorithms. If identity continues to remain the defining facet of the 21st century, digital marketing will no doubt adapt accordingly – and has indeed already begun to do so.

Instagram is no doubt the pioneer in this field, as the platform hosts an intersection of lifestyle, entertainment and culture. Like YouTube before it, Instagram has created its own celebrity culture revolving around ‘competitive life-styling’, which in turn sustains itself through lucrative endorsements from brands clamouring to get featured on any feed which enjoys a dedicated following from a focused, targeted demographic. Whilst it could be said that this is just a ‘modernised’ form of celebrity endorsement – which as a marketing technique pre-dates the internet – the self-styled, home-grown nature of these human billboards make them unprecedented. Instagram stars typically burst onto the scene overnight, often with no history of public exposure, creating a sense of ‘authenticity’ and relatability that marketers would go to great lengths to create on their own drawing boards. ­­­­

It is clear, then, that social media platforms are becoming ideally suited to this new form of native advertising, as make-up tutorials – which can garner millions of views – turn into a plug for Urban Decay or Maybelline. Whilst native advertising is often treated with suspicion when used by more ‘respected’ online institutions, it is wholeheartedly embraced on social media platforms which encourage, actively or otherwise, the association between brand and lifestyle.

Not only that, but the millions who religiously follow their chosen internet lifestyle icons across a range of platforms are effectively volunteering to scroll through a sales pitch. This could be a way for companies losing out on PPC (through the rise of Adblocking software and public apathy towards static ads) to redirect their strategies in the hope of finding a niche in the competitive life-styling world.

There is a generational hurdle to overcome before a more widespread, informal partnership between lifestyle bloggers and marketers is to be established. It was recently revealed that half of marketers over fifty report no plans to invest in Instagram as a platform for gaining exposure. With the high turnover rate on the ‘in’ social media platform of the day, their reluctance is understandable- marketers who were early adopters of platforms like Vine were no doubt frustrated as the app saw its format supplanted by Snapchat developing a video feature. Yet scepticism over the longevity of a given platform should not impede innovation. As research shows a 10% CTR gain in early adopters of new platform, novelty has and will remain a cornerstone of internet identity.

The lack of contral that tightly-run marketing departments have over influencers is, however, proving to be a thorn in the side of what would therwise be a no-brainer joint strategy. By their very nature, influencers are more accountable to their following and their own brand than any micromanaging exec; the influencer owns their image, controlling what it represents and its associations. They chose chose what products and services they weave together to form a cohesive image, an it's up to the companies in question to make the call on how far they in turn want to join the association in any official capacity.

Industry leader Microsoft has been one of the most high-profile cases showing the risks of carefully-managed brands tying in too closely to influencer marketing. With the release of the Xbox One as its entry into the eight console generation, 2013 saw the tech giant's launch backed by the face of bedroom streamer-turned-internet personality, KSI. From making Fifa commentary videos, KSI had risen to become defacto representative of ‘the gamers’ within Microsoft’s console brand image. KSI was no doubt a better representation of the consumer base than say, Phil Spencer, or any of the other execs that get wheeled out for industry shows.

Unfortunately for KSI, getting placed at the heart of the corporate world as part of one of the most meticulous marketing machines out there meant that any number of faux-pas’ were lying in wait for him. And as any 20-odd year old suddenly finding themselves inundated with money and fame, KSI would find himself quickly jettisoned once it became apparent that the brand of humour he had used to amass a huge following of teenage boys didn’t fly so well with the all-in-one family marketing message which Microsoft were after for their new launch. The subsequent embarrassment saw KSI booted, and with such a high profile schism, it seems like KSI’s future in the marketing industry is at least seriously questionable looking forward.

As has been described above however, it is the authenticity of these personalities that make them so desirable for advertisers. And whilst there are no doubt more pitfalls in managing and imposing conditions on content creators who got to where they are by making their own rules, nothing can claim to be as ‘genuine’ as someone who won their fame one subscriber at a time.  

 

 

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