In late August, influencers including 15-year-old Loren Gray (6.5 million Instagram followers), 16-year-old Nia Sioux (4.5 million Instagram followers) and 13-year-old Jacob Martin (309,000 Instagram followers) began touting a new clothing collection they designed for Target. Part of Target’s children’s apparel line Art Class, which is designed for kids by kids, the new fall collection features clothes inspired by six influencers who not only had a hand in the line’s creation but played a big role in its marketing strategy. Each influencer used Instagram to tell his or her audience how much fun they had working with Target to create the unique, personal designs. The result? The posts racked up hundreds of thousands of likes and thousands of comments like this one by lorxlover on Loren Gray’s Aug. 23 post: “I swear I’m going to persuade my mom to buy it.”
The collaboration is part of a nascent trend that’s seen brands like Target, CoverGirl and Band-Aid revamp their influencer strategies, moving away from one-off deals to long-term relationships where influencers help craft product or retail designs on an ongoing basis.
Johnson & Johnson’s Band-Aid has worked with lifestyle blogger and influencer Joy Cho of Oh Joy! for the past three years to create bandages with playful, colorful designs, with Cho hawking the latest collection to her 382,000 Instagram followers in August. And that’s just one of J&J’s many influencer relationships. According to a spokesperson, the company isn’t doing “purely transactional relationships with influencers” anymore, instead preferring “long-lasting relationships.”
“This has resulted in a better quality of content that is being produced by the influencers and contributed to a higher level of engagement with consumers,” the spokesperson explained.
Johnson & Johnson is just one of many companies that believe these deeper relationships with influencers will be seen as more authentic, drive more engagement and get more consumers to actually purchase the products influencers recommend, according to analysts.
“What you’re seeing is a flight to quality,” explained Noah Mallin, managing partner and head of MEC Wavemaker, a media shop that has worked on influencer programs for brands like L’Oréal and Ikea. “Brands want to make sure what they are paying for has an impact and is brand safe.”
Over the last year the risks of working with influencers have become clearer. Not only do brands risk major marketing dollars if they haven’t done their homework to find the right influencer, but there are also legal disclosure issues around influencer posts that, if they aren’t followed, could cost their partners big time.
Earlier this month, on Sept. 8, the Federal Trade Commission revealed that it had settled a case against influencers who had failed to properly make consumers aware of their relationships with brands and issued a warning to others. “Influencers should be aware that they’re violating the law if they don’t clearly disclose their material connections to brands,” said Maureen Ohlhausen, acting chairman of the FTC, in a video posted on Twitter.
Unlike one-off collaborations, these deeper, longer-term, more engaged relationships give brands the time to work with influencers to make sure each post is transparent and meets the FTC’s requirements while also creating content that will get influencers’ fans interested in buying their products.
In August, CoverGirl launched a new influencer program featuring nine social stars on in-store displays. The point? To help consumers shop the looks they love on social media more easily. By working with the influencers to create specific makeup looks using CoverGirl products and featuring how-to posts on their social feeds, the brand was able to “bridge the gap between online content and offline commerce,” said Laura Brinker, vp, influencer marketing, consumer beauty at Coty.
“Collaboration is critical,” said Jessica Clifton, U.S. managing director, strategic growth and development at Edelman. “While the brands have to be comfortable giving up some power to the influencer so they can speak and operate in their own style, we’re seeing the benefit of true collaborations that result in long-term relationships, not one-off transactions.”
She added, “Influencer marketing isn’t going away.”