Why One-Off Influencer Campaigns Do More Harm Than Good

Opinion: It might as well be a programmatic banner buy

Product specifications don’t naturally align with the personality of your average influencer valentinrussanov/iStock

When influencer marketing emerged as the hot new discipline (think YouTube, circa 2011), I considered its risks and benefits. I never wanted to produce content that looked (or smelt) like an “ad,” and saw an immediate opportunity in this new medium. I also had a gut feeling that treating influencers as quick-hit engagement vehicles to juice for vanity metrics would inevitably put our clients, as well as the influencer’s integrity, at risk.

But what is an actual influencer, anyhow? Someone with a blue check mark? An opinion on matters of sociopolitical importance? An unboxer? An aggregator of the top “slingshot videos?” All of the above?

The definition has loosened with time. In his latest Netflix special, comedian Tom Segura jokes that being a “#personofinfluence” nowadays just means “getting free S!$#.”

Today, we’re all suffocated by #ad when scrolling our feeds. Our once brand-agnostic beacons of bite-size entertainment have become modern product spokespeople. How did we get here?

In boardrooms across America, marketing departments are grappling with the elusive influencer campaign. It’s now a line item in every annual marketing budget. This new frontier can be daunting for companies built on decades of legally compliant retail and direct marketing programs. Product specifications, as well as feature and benefit messaging, don’t naturally align with the personality of your average influencer, who engages an audience with a unique message of their own.

The one-off influencer campaign might as well be a programmatic banner buy. A skin-deep product placement can sacrifice an influencer’s authenticity and make a brand look lazy. The role of the agency is to bridge the gap between the boardroom and the News Feed, and to do this with any success requires an investment of time in creative development.

A good idea always has space for the integrity of both your client’s brand and the brand of an influencer—it just needs uncovering.

Here are a few practices we’ve found effective in developing influencer campaigns:

  • It all starts with a tight brief: Business-savvy influencers relish a quality brief. In a recent campaign where we engaged 20+ influencers with a custom brief for each, 90 percent of them said they’d never seen a brief before when working with brands. While sharing product details and brand guidelines is important, take time to expand on the original connection you identified between your client’s goals and the influencer’s personality and message.
  • Engagement over size: A five- or low-six-figure audience highly engaged around a niche topic will serve a brand more than a seven- or eight-figure influencer already being sought after by multiple Fortune 500 consumer brands.
  • Long-term agreements benefit both parties: When an influencer gears up for a multicampaign or project deal with a brand, they are more likely to invest in understanding the brand and category and forming a personal relationship with your client’s products. Multiproject deals are also instrumental in negotiating talent fees.
  • Ask questions about audience: Influencers are protective of their channel analytics, but dig for any and all available demographic information to make sure that it aligns with your campaign’s target audience. Instincts are great in the selection process, but campaign planning and proper costing requires some transparency. You have a right to know the audience you’re buying into—ahem, bots.
  • Track everything: Track referrals from influencer channels by adding tracking to their bio links and swipe-up links and tracking web analytics of your influencer’s platform of prominence. This is the key to not only reporting success, but remarketing.

The potential for greatness lies in our ability to cultivate the advocate within an influencer. Influencers are hip to their value, as well as what other brands are paying, and they will treat a one-off as a transactional cash grab (just ask their new management team). So, this is a shout-out to my advertising peoples: Please don’t mess this one up for us. Remember, we’re dealing with people, not properties so we need to collaborate rather than commoditize.


is co-founder and managing partner of digital agency The Kimba Group.