Brands Take Aim at Influencers

March 22, 2016

By Ken Beaulieu

Advertisers are increasingly engaging “influencers” to help promote their brands and spread messages across digital and social media. A 2015 study by Tomoson, which provides software for blogger and influencer outreach, found that 22 percent of marketers surveyed rated influencer marketing as the fastest-growing online customer-acquisition method — and for good reason. On average, businesses are making $6.50 for every $1 spent on influencer campaigns, the study noted.

Ashley Fisher, counsel, global brand and sponsorships at Visa Inc., and Nathan Hole, partner at Loeb & Loeb LLP, have been keeping a close eye on the evolving influencer landscape. They say the most obvious change has been the evolution from the use of celebrities and well-known personalities as endorsers to relationships with seemingly everyday consumers — from bloggers to those with YouTube videos and social media channels, such as Snapchat.

“In some ways, things are coming full circle, with some influencer campaigns resembling a traditional product placement, but with a nontraditional piece of content — the influencer’s own, rather than mass media productions,” Fisher says. “And with the rapid improvement in the quality and accessibility of content-capture capabilities, the craftsmanship of some of the content we’re seeing is quite impressive.”

Fisher and Hole, who will speak at the ANA Advertising Law & Public Policy Conference, April 6-7 in Chicago, Ill., share more perspective on influencer marketing.

Q: Is it more important for brands to work with a few elite influencers or a large number of non-celebrity types?
Hole: It really depends on the campaign objectives: Is it driving awareness, engagement, or trying to directly impact a purchase decisions? Elite influencers obviously have larger audiences with greater reach that may create buzz or brand affinity, while an everyday influencer may have a more focused audience and channel that reaches consumers closer to a purchase decision. The type of influencer who can be most effective also depends on the brand’s broader campaign, initiatives, or brand identity.

Q: What qualities do the most successful influencer campaigns share in common?
Fisher: The most successful influencer campaigns closely align the brand’s campaign objectives and message with the influencer’s audience and natural tone. If a campaign objective is engagement through sharing, retweeting, etc., the content has to be compelling and shareworthy.

Q: On the flip side, what are some of the main issues that hinder influencer campaigns?
Hole: In rare cases, brands may want to do an influencer campaign without a clearly defined objective. When an influencer’s channel is not particularly compelling or likely to move the needle for the brand, the combination of brand and influencer isn’t as effective. In addition, failing to properly disclose the connection between an influencer and a brand not only poses legal risk, the lack of transparency may erode trust in both the influencer and brand.

Q: What are some of the legal risks brands face when partnering with more vociferous influencers?
Fisher: Vociferous influencers may have stronger feelings about maintaining a particular tone or content of their messages, or may be eager to engage in dialogues with other users about the subject of a campaign. This can present challenges in making sure that the brand’s relationship with the influencer is appropriately disclosed. And while it’s something of a dream scenario to have a well-known influencer discussing your products or services organically with other users, it’s important to know where the boundaries are of what can and can’t be said by the influencer.

On the other hand, some non-celebrity influencers with valuable audiences are frequently engaged by different brands, and have what amounts to the “sponsored post of the day.” In those cases, it’s key to make sure that the influencer is maintaining trust of his/her audience and isn’t seen as just pushing the daily sponsored message. In both cases, influencers sometimes want to take shortcuts on disclosure obligations to avoid being seen as a sell-out; this is an important conversation to find ways to make appropriate disclosures in the context of each situation. Brands also need to remember the basics: an influencer has the same obligations as the brand to make only truthful and supportable statements about the brand’s products or services, and educating an influencer about the products or services can go far in trying to mitigate an enthusiastic influencer from possible overrepresentations.

Q: Purposeful influencer marketing is a growing trend. Are there any legal implications brands need to be aware of?
Hole: Across the board, we see increased interest in cause-related marketing that tries to leverage consumer interest in doing social good into increased connection with the brand. Depending on the form they take, either the brand or the influencer activity could implicate state laws that require commercial entities engaged in charitable ventures to register with the state and conduct the campaigns in specific ways.

The 2016 ANA Advertising Law & Public Policy Conference provides attendees with critical knowledge about the evolution of the regulatory and legal landscape, and offers opportunities to network with your peers and leaders in the space. The conference will be held from April 6-7, 2016 in Chicago, Ill.

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