I recently heard a marketing executive say at a conference that “to establish trust you have to appear authentic.” I found this turn of phrase interesting, and telling; she didn’t say “be” authentic — she said “appear” authentic.
Influencer marketing is a large and growing part of this widespread pursuit by brands to appear more authentic. This makes the fakery that is endemic to so much of influencer marketing even more striking.
A study by HypeAuditor found that 55% of Instagram influencers were involved in some sort of social media fraud and fakery in 2020 and that 45% of Instagram accounts are not even real people. Yet they predict the Instagram influencer market will grow by 15% this year.
Curtis Hougland recently called influencer marketing “a $10 billion placebo” in an AdAge op-ed.
The placebo he refers to is attempt to address the epidemic of consumer mistrust in brands (citing a Edelman study that only 54% of American consumers say they trust business in general and a Kantar study that only 38% of consumers trust advertising to get information about brands).
“As this crisis in consumer confidence unfolded, marketers rightfully sought greater authenticity in their content and communications. They understandably strove to build meaningful relationships with consumers by building on the perceived trust between consumers and the celebrities, YouTube stars and influencers that they follow on social media.
“Unfortunately, what we call “influencer marketing” … doesn’t actually build trust, because influencers command attention, not intention.”
There are efforts underway to improve the credibility of influencer marketing, including more transparent labeling of paid endorsements and shifts from celebrity influencers to groups of micro-influencers. But the explosion of influencer marketing is outpacing some of these efforts and influencer fatigue is growing.
Brands can’t fix an authenticity gap in ways that lack authenticity. I think brands can only “appear” authentic for so long without actually “being” authentic.
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: