Promotions aimed at influencers getting more elaborate in pandemic
Brands today are investing tens of thousands of dollars on over-the-top activations to grab the attention of key social media players with the expectation that they will promote their products to their scores of followers. Journalists can also be among the recipients, as marketers seek earned media mentions.
It’s a trend accelerated by the pandemic, which has sidelined major in-person events, leading to marketers investing more in pricier promotional mailings to catch attention.
For example, Spotify delivered videogaming chairs with Bose headphones to handpicked VIPs; to promote the “Soul Train Awards,” BET sent out LPs, record players and vintage issues of Jet and Ebony magazines to select individuals; and Remy Martin worked with chefs in multiple markets to bring cocktails and gourmet bites to the homes of powerful influencers.
Coltrane Curtis, founder and managing partner at the Brooklyn agency Team Epiphany—a leader in experiential marketing with a history of creating memorable campaigns, including those mentioned above—remembers when promotional pieces sent to VIPs, celebrities and journalists were little more than tricked-out party invitations.
“It’s taken on a mind of its own,” said Curtis, whose shop has been cranking out an average of two such campaigns per week, as marketers during lockdown have sought to get their brands out there. Some promotional pieces can run hundreds of dollars or even as much as $1,000 apiece. “Budgets have ballooned,” as Curtis put it.
What’s harder to pin down is the payoff for such a massive investment. Counting up social media impressions is one thing; ascribing a dollar value to them is another. “You really have to roll your sleeves up to do data collection after sending them out,” Curtis said. “If you’re sending a highly coveted apparel item, you have to be on the lookout over the next month or two to see if it’s being worn in real life.” The return on investment is “not just about social,” he stressed. “It’s about the real world.”
More defined measurement could be on the horizon. In December, the Association of National Advertisers announced the formation of an Influencer Marketing Advisory Board, which seeks to establish standardized metrics in the space. An ANA survey found that measurement and ROI are top challenges in influencer marketing, with 34% of respondents touting it as performing better than other tactics, but with 39% unsure because of a lack of accurate measurement.
Making a splash
What is not in question is the importance of brands making a splash, notably among key influencers. “So much is happening in the marketing world now, you need to stand out,” said Mike Kaufman, ANA senior VP, brand activation. “You have to do something that’s going to get people’s attention.”
To accomplish this, promotions are getting more and more out-there. This past summer, to promote the HBO series “Perry Mason,” the West Hollywood-based shop RQ Agency enlisted an army of waiters in black tie to deliver influencers enormous crates stocked with dozens of products referencing the show—from elixirs in branded, vintage-style bottles to spaghetti and meatballs from famed L.A. eatery Musso & Frank.
It took “a small army” to pull it off, said Carl Stevens, account director at RQ, which also works with marketers including YouTube and Pizza Hut.
Such promos have come a long way, according to Stevens. “It used to be a sweatshirt in a box with a cool note,” he said. “Everyone has had to ask, What’s the next level you can take it to that cuts above the noise if an influencer has 20 things showing up at their door every day?”
It can get complicated—but that’s where the creativity comes in.
“Complex is fun,” said Stevens. “That’s where all the best ideas live.”