BEIJING: Sportswear brands Nike and adidas lead the way when it comes to achieving reach in China through key opinion leaders (KOLs), according to a new study which comes as Unilever’s Keith Weed has warned that unethical influencer practices can undermine trust.

Influencer marketing agency Parklu analysed the work of 28 fashion and sports brands during April 2018, both local and international, and 20,000 influencers with a reach of over 500m across 11 platforms.

It found that Nike’s use of influencers gave the brand a reach of 576.9m, while for adidas the figure was 429.3m; engagement rates, however, were well under 0.75%.

The highest engagement rates, of 2.0% or more, were achieved by Jupe Vendue and Forever 21, but their reach was rather less, substantially so in the latter case, at 158m and 14.5m respectively.

Nike’s efforts have benefited greatly from China’s love of basketball and the NBA in particular, according to Campaign Asia-Pacific – China has long been the largest international market for the National Basketball Association (NBA), which has recently been making efforts to expand its fan base across Southeast Asia – with the brand’s exposure particularly evident on Weibo and WeChat.

In terms of platforms generally, Weibo was the most widely used by brands, but the report noted that social commerce channel Xiaohongshu has been catching up as a number of female celebrities have joined it, attracting the attention of brands like Zara, H&M and Mango.

The report’s findings come as a prominent global marketer warned of the dangers of fraud perpetrated by influencers undermining trust in this channel.

Keith Weed, chief marketing and communications officer at FMCG giant Unilever, pointed to practices such as buying followers and declared that Unilever would not work with influencers who did this and would prioritise partners who were increasing transparency.

“The key to improving the situation is three-fold: cleaning up the influencer ecosystem by removing misleading engagement; making brands and influencers more aware of the use of dishonest practices; and improving transparency from social platforms to help brands measure impact,” Weed said.

“We need to take urgent action now to rebuild trust before it’s gone forever.”

Sourced from Campaign Asia-Pacific, Campaign; additional content by WARC staff