Are influencers selling products or are they selling out?

Influencer marketing and brand building
Representational image. Photo: Pexels/ George Milton

As early as the 18th century, marketers recognized the power of influential individuals. This so-called ‘marketing through an individual’ strategy can be seen from the early 18th century. One of the notable figures is Josiah Wedgwood, whose value and idea of his ‘brand’ helped him sell British Potter (as Queensware).

The idea of attracting attention, with an intention to sell, and that through an individual is as far of an idea as the dawn of civilization itself. The creation of a so-called value through ‘personalities’ or ‘notable figures’ (which have now transitioned into the idea of celebrities and influencers) has been seen to be a proprietor selling point even in the past.

The idea of endorsement

To give it more context, and a logical understanding- artists, poets, writers, and how they were recognised by their work, and could sell through the idea that ‘It’s an X person’s work! So, it must be good!’ was the first remark of what has now transitioned into the idea of endorsement itself.

And, it was not just artists, creative writers, or politicians that used their personification of what their audience thought; to sell something, but much more came from the early 1910s, through the emergence of animation and the animated world. Fictional characters came to play in this marketing scheme out of which, one notable character, which I’m sure we all have heard of is ‘Mickey Mouse’.

Nowadays, anything can be an endorser, as long as they can pull some sort of leverage, retention and awareness into the product or service one tries to sell. The Marvel Cinematic Universe using their PR to promote their toys and their assets, or again, Mickey Mouse being used to sell an idea, or a product itself, is very common in the contemporary world.

Micheal Jordan’s Air is a notable example that has had a significant impact in this endorsement world of products sold through an ‘influencer.’ Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Youtubers like Ksi or Logan Paul (who have endorsed Prime Energy Drink), and so many other micro-influencers who have a huge impact on this industry.

Influencers of this age

An influencer is someone who influences, in simple words. But, more broadly and contextually of this article, or the normalcy of words we have been familiar with, in that regard, an influencer is a digital endorser that uses their audience’s viewership to sell something to them. Let us only focus on the idea of marketing and creating a buzz in the world of ‘influencer marketing’, and that too within the context of Nepal.

When one looks at the world from a broader perspective, advertising is so commonly found nowadays (which is seen almost everywhere we go), that, we have somehow been used to a world where we have merged and accepted all of these billboards, flyers, posters that we see everywhere, everyday into something common.

Let me tell you about an incident. In 2018, a famous tech Youtuber by the name of Marques Brownlee pointed out through a tweet that Gal Gadot (famously known for playing Wonder Woman in the DCEU) had endorsed the phone company Huawei and implemented that she uses only Huawei phones. Marques saw that the tweet had been tweeted through an iPhone and pointed out the hypocrisy which resulted in the Twitter account of Gal Gadot blocking the tech Youtuber.

This incident, and so many other similar incidents have time and again stirred up a debate about endorsement through influencers and the underlying aspect of what lies as integrity and reliability in this industry.

The difference in influencers

A market’s job is to market, a seller’s job is to sell, and so one could argue that an influencer’s job is to, well, influence. But, why have these incidents time and again stirred and been the staircase for debates about responsibility and withholding trust, when it is an influencer’s job to simply influence?

Perhaps the answer lies in the idea that influencers are not just entities, subjects or mediums, but they are more. They are people and not just people— they are people who connect.

In today’s realm of contemporary influencers, the audience not just sees them as a medium but sees them as a person. They have ideas of how they are, and they have beliefs of what they hold as their philosophies, the idea of ‘woke culture.’ moreover, there’s a set of importance that the contemporary audience gives to these micro-influencers or influencers as a whole, through this perceived thought of what they as the audience see.

Such a relationship of connection, though debatable in the aspect of the reality in the personas of these influencers, undoubtedly brings about the idea that responsibility is a factor when it comes to this field of marketing as influencers are not just influencers, they are people we trust, they are people we see and they are people that hold value in their voice of reason for selling, and when such a level of trust comes, responsibility is bound.

The state of Nepali influencers

To understand the reality behind this unspoken idea of responsibility that should (or should not be) adhered to by influencers, especially in the context of Nepal, we interviewed two up-and-coming micro-influencers —Muskan Vaidya and Bishaka Koirala) who endorse products from various platforms (notably one being Daraz).

Through this very small survey of interviews and a plea at understanding the influencer industry of Nepal from a ground level, we asked a set of questions to these two micro-influencers. From what kind of products they usually market to where the thin line lies in terms of responsibility adherence, these two interviews helped us understand this world from a broader aspect.

Firstly, it was found that most of the influencers endorse products according to their niche and their usability/reliance. For instance, a ‘biker’ persona of an influencer on Instagram would market and endorse ‘bike products’. Similarly, in this case, our two interviewees said that they endorse products of Beauty and Lifestyle as their audience knows them for that niche.

The second question was about the setting of the relationship they have not just between their audience but also between the sellers. It was found that the setting between the seller and the influencer was either based on a commission-based endorsement, a free-product-based endorsement, a monetary-based endorsement or a personal affiliation-based endorsement.

It is expected from the influencer that they are endorsing a product or service with integrity and accountability towards their audience. It was found that the influencers work with the ethos of honesty, integrity, knowledge, self-morality and self-accountability that can become that exact thin line between selling and selling out.

Moreover, the market’s influencers and their ideas of integrity were seen as something that’s divided through a gap of knowledge, or the lack of care for their audience (or some other factor). 

However, if the audience finds the influencers accountable who are selling out with integrity and morality, the audience has to hold them accountable; because if they hold them accountable, the power spectrum shifts and becomes mutual.

The future of influencer marketing

Miquela (AI Influencer)
Miquela (AI Influencer)

With, even the emergence of AI influencers in the market (like Miquela), the future of influencer marketing is unknown. However, one thing is clear— as long as something can bring about some level of attraction, attention and awareness—companies would want it to be a medium of transmission (to sell their products to a larger audience).

With the growing market uncertainty among its players, if this debate is not occasionally stirred up to examine the aspects of ethics, morality, integrity, and adherence to responsibility, the thin line between an influencer selling and selling out will remain blurred and unclear.

The post Are influencers selling products or are they selling out? appeared first on OnlineKhabar English News.

Scroll to Top