The Problem with Influencer Marketing in South Africa

This post is an opinion [commentary] following Lelo (@lelowhatsgood) and Afro (@Afro_M)’s first podcast which you can listen to below.

When the concept and subsequent incorporation of Friends of Brands in late 2014 came about, I had built a strong interest in influencer marketing, thus, my then aim to build a platform that would aggregate social media (and web) personalities who had large followings, high interaction rates and resonated well with their audiences. At the time, only Webfluential existed in South Africa; it was also barely a year old. It still exists, but only as a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and no longer offers agency services, which is the area on which Friends of Brands has pivoted.

Key to Lelo and Afro’s podcast is the saturation of a few individuals who have (in the past 2 years or so) received the lion’s share of the work that brands have put out there. The podcast highlights the following 2 points about these individuals (and possibly others who will follow in their footsteps):

  1. A lack of authenticity about their endorsements
  2. Brand “whorism” for a lack of a better phrase

I won’t delve into the obvious negative implications of the above; the podcast goes into more detail. However, my main gripe with almost everyone I hear speaking on this topic is them placing most of the blame on the influencers. Ultimately, the decision to choose certain people over others to endorse a brand lies with the brand itself (and its agency). This is really where the problem lies.

The choice of influencer(s) for any campaign should be backed up by numbers first and foremost, and secondly, by that individual or individuals’ resonance with the brand and the brand to his/her/their audiences. What has been happening, however, is that agencies have been bullshitting many of their clients by not articulating clearly that large numbers of followers, fans, etc., won’t necessarily equate to sales or the right (and relevant) exposure. Instead, agencies sell these misleading metrics and numbers to brands, who then give the go ahead for what ends up being a disaster in the most extreme cases, or a completely poor ROI on the entire exercise, given alternatives.

The  Role of Agencies

Agencies and the brands they represent approach influencers because it seems safe to use the same personalities that other big brands have used before, thus, we often see the same influencers for competing brands. The marketing team knows it’ll get numbers of some sort, and as someone who works with data, it’s very easy to smooth out failures in the numbers and highlight only good performance, which is what management wants to see.

Therefore, my opinion is that influencers should take less of the flack for their supposed brand prostitution and disingenuous promotion. As long as the brainstorming sessions and war rooms come up with the same ideas and the same people, the influencers (upon accepting the work) will continue attracting a lot of negativity and ultimately alienate their communities, which is not good for the brands also.

What Should be Done to Save Poor Influencer Marketing Campaigns

Members of the marketing team need to conduct thorough research about the influencers who are likely to have a big impact on their brand. Those guys may not be the ones whom everyone else uses – Lelo briefly mentions them on the podcast as micro influencers. I strongly agree that brands should start looking at these people and their small communities rather than follow the route that every other brand has been following. That is the kind of approach that we follow at Friends of Brands, and one that offers better results.

See how we can help you with your influencer marketing campaign or other work.

3 Replies to “The Problem with Influencer Marketing in South Africa”

  1. Thank you for this article. I think you’ve basically covered the jist of the matter discussed on the podcast. My main qualm is with where the decision process start and we did mention how influencers are getting all the blame when in actual fact, they shouldn’t be getting pointed at. Micro-influencers are the future. Numbers don’t really matter anymore. Our local marketers need to stop being lazy and look outside the box.

  2. I like the example that you gave in the beginning about the cool kids in high school, the internet gave us those kids at our fingertips when tumblr first started. People were sharing their personal styles as well as lookbooks, then you would follow the ones you find interesting. Now, like highschool, those cool kids were living and wearing these brands making you want to buy them. Youtube is filled with people sharing the brands they are into and of course brands now rush to send them stuff and pay them because they influence their followers to buy. As far as I know, nobody wears the same brand, in any closet you find different items from different labels. I do agree that someone like Siya Beyile is more influential because he does something that is fashion related and he incorporates the brands in his daily life and does it so well but I only say he is “more influential” because he gives talks and is inspirational as a young entrepreneur but if I am just looking for cool clothes that are on trend I know to go to someone like Lulama or someone who’s other business doesn’t concern me all I want is to see what are they currently into(aesthetically) and how are they styling it.

    Yes, there are brand alignments that are just off but I disagree with calling people brand “wh*res” nobody wears or uses only one brand unless you are an ambassador of these huge sports brands for instance then it will be in your contract not to endorse their competition and that is fine.

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