Brands using influencer marketing for content likely had the best of intentions when they began.
But like much of the internet, things went south. Look at Mark Zuckerberg's altruistic goal to create a more open and connected world with Facebook. Today, Facebook now has to hire thousands of screeners to monitor its Live product -- weeding out low-quality clickbait articles, fake news, and worthless, sometimes extremely heinous video content.
The same thing happened to Twitter. As a result of an ongoing assault of abusive, bullying and harassing tweets, Twitter too is on a hiring spree, onboarding hundreds of engineers to help them automate the identification and removal of low-quality or abusive content.
Like much of the internet and our social media news feeds, influencer marketing started off with the best intentions: Brands hired the instafamous to help them promote their products. Sadly, the industry has effectively devolved into one similar to clickbait advertising, an industry filled with publishers that monetize their content through shocking headlines, while the instafamous monetize their large followings.
Instead of click-baity blogger titles like "How to Quit Your Job, Move to Paradise and Get Paid to Change the World," the instafamous are now romanticizing their followers with the promise of glamour and the "good life," as long as they "Like" their incessant updates and buy the products they're pushing.
This is bad news for brands have embraced influencers to create "authentic conversations" with their fans and customers.
Brands continue to get eviscerated almost daily as a result of staged influencer advertising campaigns gone wrong. Why? Because consumers know better and can easily see through the inauthentic.
A bad business model
These repeated failed attempts are why the Federal Trade Commission has been forced to remind the industry, repeatedly, of their new rules regarding disclosure requirements. And whenever the FTC has to step into an industry and institute regulations in order to protect consumers, you know there's a real problem. The FTC has better things to do with their time than monitoring IG posts from Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski, making sure they're following the rules and including the #ads hashtag on their IG posts.
Tricking consumers into a false reality is a bad business model, one with short-term gains and long-term brand damage. It actually reminds me of a quote from David Ogilvy, the Father of Advertising and the King of Madison Ave: "Never write an advertisement which you wouldn't want your family to read. You wouldn't tell lies to your own wife. Don't tell them to mine."
Another Ogilvy quote that hopefully helps drive home the point:
"Viewers have a way of remembering the celebrity while forgetting the product. I did not know this when I paid Eleanor Roosevelt $35,000 to make a commercial for margarine. She reported that her mail was equally divided. "One-half was sad because I had damaged my reputation. The other half was happy because I had damaged my reputation. Not one of my proudest memories."
The future of marketing isn't in engaging influencers for over-staged, over-styled, made-to-look-authentic branded content. It's an incredibly deceptive tactic, sure to follow a downward spiral from initial excitement to the ultimate letdown.
Busier than ever and armed with the smartest of smartphones, consumers are also smarter than ever. As a result, they demand straightforward, authentic conversations with their friends and the brands they love. They also demand full transparency.
Unfortunately, influencer marketing is manipulative and misrepresentative, and has effectively become the clickbait of marketing. And just like the major social networks having to deal with the consequences of clickbait in their newsfeeds, brands will need to address the inherent issues with influencer marketing.
Rather than engaging celebrities and the instafamous in order to engineer campaigns, brands should be engaging real fans and customers for authentic, brand stories -- using those stories to help drive like-minded consumers down the path to purchase.
The future of marketing must be one where brands look to their real fans and customers for less (yet, better) branded content for their marketing campaigns. It's a natural, authentic and, most importantly, honest approach to branded content creation. And it's exactly what fans and customers need to stay engaged for the long term.