Does Traditional Advertising Need to Worry About Influencer Culture?

Influence marketing continues to grow in importance, thanks in part to its ability to authentically appeal to niche communities and audiences — as well as influencers’ ability to work through the pandemic in ways that traditional advertising couldn’t. What’s the future of influencer marketing, and what can traditional advertising learn from it?


What’s so great about influencer marketing

There’s a certain irony at the heart of internet advertising. On one hand, more people than ever before are available to advertisers. On the other hand, because the internet provides a space for niche communities to develop and flourish, those potential customers are more diverse than ever in their interests. The great strength of influencer marketing is its ability to scale both up and down, reaching massive audiences and niche audiences with content that’s tailormade to appeal to them.


Influencer marketing is also incredibly efficient, which is a major reason it’s exploded in popularity in recent years. Because an influencer can shoot, edit, and deploy a video or post from the comfort of their own home, the tactic came to be critical to many brands’ advertising strategies during the pandemic. But in some ways, the appeal is even simpler than that. Influencer marketing can be impressively cheap, and fast, a quality that’s absolutely vital when it comes to keeping up with social media users.


The problem(s) with influencer marketing

To be clear, influencer marketing isn’t the holy grail of advertising. Because social media platforms tend to focus their conversations around particular trends, ads that utilize influencers have to sacrifice differentiation from the get-go — in other words, it’s harder to break through the storm of similar posts. And because those can have extremely short lifespans, it can be difficult to organize a campaign or even a post before the trend itself is out of fashion.


There’s also the authenticity problem. Advertising, at its core, is about selling something. With traditional advertising, we’ve already accustomed ourselves to that basic fact. We don’t really mind if Pepsi tries to sell us a can of Pepsi because, well, duh. But if an internet personality starts blatantly advertising a particular product or service, it can turn some users off because it feels so much like what it is — marketing.


Final thoughts

One way to think about the authenticity problem is as a matter of scale. If a micro-influencer advertises a product, it can feel inauthentic. But if a YouTube star with hundreds of millions of followers does the same, we might not care as much — precisely because the YouTube star has become a brand in their own right.


The fact that a high-level influencer marketing campaign can resemble traditional advertising points to the benefits of a blended approach, which is something brands should keep in mind. In fact, research from Adweek has shown that 57% of millennials are willing to view sponsored content from a brand if it includes authentic influencer personalities — a sure sign that traditional advertising is still finding ways to make its mark.