Brands embrace social media influencers as modern-day advertisers

Brands embrace social media influencers as modern-day advertisers

By Justine IrishD. Tabile, Reporter

VANEZZA GAIL V. HERNANDEZ, 24, bought a Squad Cosmetics eyeshadow palette from Shopee after it was recommended by a Filipino fashion influencer with 1.6 million followers on YouTube.

“Watching YouTube became a pastime for me during the pandemic, and I thought I should practice makeup,” she said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “I came across Rei Germar’s YouTube channel and got instantly hooked.”

Influencer marketing was limited to celebrities a decade ago, and you had to watch them on TV. These days, social media influencers from YouTube and Facebook to Instagram and TikTok have risen and enjoy a strong following from their tight-knit communities.

Influencers have revolutionized marketing strategies, with brands now embracing them as a major advertising tactic, consumer research and data analytics company Milieu Insight said.

The global market for influencer marketing was valued at $16.5 billion in 2022 and is expected to multiply 12 times to $199.6 billion by 2032, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 28.6%, according to Allied Market Research.

In the Philippines, 68% of Filipinos follow influencers for all sorts of advice, Milieu Insight said in a study in July. YouTube drew the most interest in the Philippines.

Beauty products were the top-selling category driven by influencer content, which is skewed toward females (56%) and Generation Zs or those aged 16 to 26 (46%).

“Many of [the influencers] subtly leverage their influence, seamlessly incorporating product placements into everyday content, such as makeup tutorials, get-ready-with-me videos or travel vlogs,” Milieu Insight said.

Carl Drexler D. Mendeja, a 24-year-old engineer from Manila, bought an umbrella and earphones endorsed by separate TikTok influencers.

“Influencer Jomar Yee said it’s durable. The way he advertised the umbrella was too much, swinging it back and forth like that. I couldn’t help but be enticed to buy it,” he said via Messenger chat.

Mr. Mendeja said he also buys products based on comments from other consumers on social media. Influencers also offer promotional codes that buyers can use while shopping online.

Milieu Insight’s study showed that Filipino women mostly buy beauty (41%), fashion (38%) and food and beverage (37%) products. Men buy tech gadgets (41%), food and beverages (36%) and fashion (30%).

“There are a ton of influencers now out there that are helping brands, especially the smaller ones, get exposure to a larger, more mainstream market,” Erik Paolo S. Capistrano, who teaches business at the University of the Philippines, said via Messenger chat.

Many of these smaller brands that can’t afford big celebrities rely on these social media influencers with loyal followers to help them sell their products, he said.

Granted, there could be trust issues with some influencers.

“Key reasons for lack of trust could be due to lack of knowledge and expertise about the products they endorse,” Sonia Elicia D, associate marketing director at Milieu Insight, said in an e-mailed reply to questions.

Some consumers also question the authenticity of a review, deceptive practices and inconsistent opinion on the part of some social media influencers.

“Many influencers are perceived as promoting products solely for monetary gain, leading to skepticism about their true feelings and experiences with the product,” Ms. D said.

Some influencers also fail to disclose whether some content is sponsored, blurring the line between genuine recommendations and pair promotions, she said.

There’s also a concern about oversaturation of sharing and the final return on investment from influencer marketing.

“This leads to audience fatigue, and many brands are still concerned about the final return on investment, which is not so easily measured,” she added.

To counter this, brands and influencers should practice effective audience targeting, stick to relevant content, diversify and use data.

Mr. Capistrano said legitimacy and credibility are the biggest issues with influencers, unlike well-known celebrities.

“It’s hard to say who is legit or not across different spectrums,” he said. “Celebrities have some degree of established credibility because they need to be good in their craft first before brands consider them for endorsements. Influencers, not so much. Anybody can be an influencer with enough content.”

“It’s much easier to lose credibility as an influencer especially in this era of ‘Cancel Culture,’” he said. “One incident, one bad PR, and you’re done or at least it’s very hard to bounce back.”

Since celebrities have established their reputations spanning years of hard work, it’s easier for them to bounce back, or it’s easier to brush aside controversies that hound them, Mr. Capistrano said.

“Influencers do gigs and stuff, but they’re still freelancers and project-based workers, working in environments that are so fragmented it’s hard to establish for sure who are the industry leaders,” he said. “With celebrities, you know who the A-listers are.”

The effectiveness of influencer marketing in driving direct sales is not significant, despite the rising number of influencers and 56% of survey participants following them, Milieu Insight said, based on a survey of 2,500 people in Southeast Asia.

Still, influencers’ sponsored content aids brand awareness and plays a pivotal role in the buyer’s journey, it added.

“Influencers have become trusted sources of information and recommendations for consumers across various niches,” the market research firm said. “When influencers authentically promote a product or service, they create a bridge of trust between brands and potential buyers.”

Ms. D said brands should pick influencers who have strong trust relationships with their audience.

“Use of data to monitor campaign effectiveness is also key, and adaptability to switch strategies quickly will also be important factors for success,” she added.

Mr. Capistrano thinks influencer marketing could boost short-term sales, but doubts it helps in the long term.

“Here’s the thing: For every good, legitimate and credible influencer, there are a hundred bad ones,” he said. “That alone is more than enough to make people pause about what brands and products to purchase.”

Some celebrities have learned to use vlogs and are very active on social media platforms.

Brands should hire influencers who are borderline celebrities — influencers who have established credentials. “Why? Because it’s a major sign of trustworthiness,” Mr. Capistrano said.

“The influencer market honestly needs a hard look in the mirror. My biggest beef with influencers is that a ton of them pretend that they are experts in life and that the entire world revolves around what they’ve experienced,” he said.

“Consumers also need to wake up and stop blindly following influencer suggestions and be more scrutinizing. Their bubbles and corners of the world are different from the majority,” he added.