LONDON: The independent agency group M&C Saatchi is increasing its capability in influencer marketing with the acquisition of Red Hare Digital, a beauty influencer company, and its sister Grey Whippet. The move arrives hot on the heels of global brands casting doubt on the integrity of some influencers.

The news was first reported by the Financial Times, emphasising Red Hare’s particular influence in the UK – one influencer based there commands 1.35m followers – and India – where Kaushal Beauty speaks to 2m YouTube subscribers.

Speaking to the FT, M&C Saatchi CEO, David Kershaw, noted that an acquisition was out of character for his agency group. “We are fundamentally about organic growth,” he said, but he also noted the importance of this channel investment.

“Young audiences have become harder to reach and influencers are a very potent channel.”

Just last week, however, Unilever’s CMO Keith Weed took to the Cannes Lions stage to say his firm would no longer work with influencers that buy social media followers and urged other brands to take action. Though Weed continues to believe that influencers are important for brands, “their power comes from a deep, authentic and direct connection with people”.

However, recent news has shaken that foundation, Weed added. “Certain practices like buying followers can easily undermine these relationships.”

The problem is the ease with which followers can be bought. Last August, Campaign reported, the US agency MediaKix deliberately misled brands to prove how easy it was, creating two completely fake Instagram influencers, bolstered by fake followers and fake engagement.

"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.

Kershaw stressed to the FT that his agency had performed “very strict due diligence on all the influencers they have got on their books.”

To his mind, he added, influencer marketing could be termed performance marketing, through the measurable impact that influencer recommendations can have on sales alongside more traditional brand building.

Sourced from the Financial Times, Campaign; additional content by WARC staff