WARC’s Chiara Manco looks at three brands that stood out by using influencers in unconventional ways.

Influencer marketing continues to grow in popularity. A recent survey by the Association of National Advertisers attributes this growth to consumers’ increased social media use and brands’ desire to be more authentic, drive engagement and reach younger audiences.

Influencer strategies require brands to be mindful of growing concerns around fake followers, lack of authenticity – think the Fyre Festival furore – and suitability. However, as more brands jump on the influencer bandwagon – the industry is predicted to reach a value of up to $10bn this year – cutting through is becoming ever more important.

Nescafé: partnering a virtual idol

In China, Nescafé’s bottled coffee was competing for youngsters’ attention with trendier options such as bubble tea. The brand’s breakthrough insight was that its target audience – the post-1995 generation – had grown up without siblings due to China’s one-child policy. This had led them to find companionship in Vocaloids: virtual idols that perform as real-life singers would.

Through Mindshare China, Nescafé partnered China’s most beloved Vocaloid: Luo Tianyi. By scanning a QR code on Nescafé bottles, consumers could unlock games and personal messages from Luo Tianyi herself. The messages were customised based on location, weather, time of day and even horoscope, and could be shared on WeChat. The brand also created a filter on popular short-video app Douyin, allowing fans to interact with the virtual idol in a music video.

The virtual partnership led to increased sales, awareness and consumption. It also won a Bronze and the Collaboration with an Influencer Special Award in the Partnerships & Sponsorships category of the 2019 WARC Media Awards.

In WARC’s Trend Snapshot on virtual influencers, Mobbie Nazir, Chief Strategy Officer at We Are Social, says: “Fake talent can be easier to work with and more cost-effective than real-life celebrities.” One could argue, however, that virtual talent is more likely to raise concerns around authenticity. Yet consumers who are weary of the picture-perfect reality portrayed on social media may prefer depictions of unashamed, undebatable artificiality. Nazir comments: “This gives brands the opportunity to be openly fake – indeed, owning it and coming across all the more real for it.”

Danner: making the private, personal

Danish women’s refuge Danner had to raise awareness of domestic violence in Denmark, where one in 60 women experiences domestic abuse. With MediaCom, Danner selected seven popular Danish female influencers and each one posted an Instagram Story featuring a picture of themselves. The picture reacted to every tap on the screen by mimicking being hit, bruising and bleeding. The seven influencers gave the charity access to more than 325,000 people, which were led to Danner’s website at the end of the experience.

It reached a third of Denmark’s population through both the influencers’ accounts and PR. Calls and emails to Danner increased by 685% and the campaign was awarded a Bronze in the Tech category of the 2019 Media Awards.

Skinny: flipping the influencer model

Self-proclaimed ‘no-frills telco’ Skinny used humour to engage Kiwis when it lost its main distribution channel, New Zealand’s largest retailer, The Warehouse. As Skinny did not have a retail footprint of its own, this was potentially disastrous to its long-term brand health.

Through PHD, Skinny developed a new brand proposition, positioning itself as a brand that would do anything to keep prices low and consumers happy. So, it launched a star-studded campaign, featuring eight of the biggest Hollywood names – in fact, just the names. Skinny recruited eight perfectly ordinary New Zealanders that shared their names with A-list stars, such as Clint Eastwood or Ben Affleck, and had them endorse the telco across TV, OOH and print.

Getting the full Hollywood treatment, Skinny’s stars attended the “VIP(ish)” Skinny Orange Carpet Party, appeared on New Zealand’s leading breakfast TV show and were snapped by paparazzi.

Skinny increased average revenue per customer and brand consideration, and the campaign was shortlisted in the Partnerships & Sponsorships category of the 2019 WARC Media Awards. When discussing the entry, judge Caspar Mason, Creative Strategy Director, Jack Morton, said: “It’s almost like a reverse influencer campaign – a great partnership with people who ‘shouldn’t’ be partnered with. It could easily have just been a TVC, but they took it further.”

Influencers with benefits

While authenticity and relevance should be the basis of every influencer strategy, brands are evolving their approach to deliver greater impact. In a WARC Event Report from the 2019 ANA Digital & Social Media Conference, American Express’s Walter Frye, Vice President of Global Brand Engagement, said the company treats influencer partnerships as “relationships with mutual benefits. We don’t just share our priorities, we also want to know what their priorities are. This helps us mutually determine what content to organically put in their feed.” 

This echoes advice given by Neil Waller, Co-Founder of influencer marketing company Whalar, who offers five tips on working with influencers, most crucially: “Make influencer marketing an integrated part of your entire marketing strategy for the campaign. Leverage the insights, utilise the creative across all your channels and tie up the messaging. Influencer marketing’s ability to help break down the walls between marketers and their consumers is where the true power of this marketing channel exists. Embraced fully, it can help make advertising more personable, more culturally relevant and, crucially, more effective.”