New strategy for those jostling for attention from social media generation
26 Feb, 2018TNP.SG
Last August, social media personalities Youtiao666 and Preetipls and local singer Nathan Hartono were featured in an anti-theft awareness video.
The video - a collaboration between make-up retailer Sephora and the Singapore Police Force (SPF) - was a hit with more than 120,000 views on Facebook, thanks to its over-the-top antics and comedic story line.
It had Preeti Nair's online persona Preetipls - known for saying and doing politically incorrect things - stealing Hartono's dog and getting arrested for pocketing make-up.
Michelle Lee and Charlotte Tan, the duo behind Youtiao666, were also transformed into an SPF anti-theft standee.
The choice of influencers and the video's unconventional story line were deliberate.
"Sephora chose to engage Youtiao666, Preetipls and Nathan Hartono for a social media campaign that took a tongue-in-cheek approach that... resonated with Sephora's affirmative stand on diversity and inclusiveness," a spokesman for Sephora told The New Paper.
A spokesman for the SPF agreed, saying: "These social media influencers were engaged as they appeal to and can help spread the prevention and deterrence message to the right target audience."
As brands jostle for attention from the social media generation, influencer marketing - using social media personalities to advertise products or push campaigns - has grown.
This is so even among brands and organisations that are not within the more social media-friendly topics of lifestyle, travel and beauty.
Recently, the Ministry of Finance paid over 50 social media influencers to promote Budget 2018. The campaign was to reach an estimated 225,000 users on Instagram.
The Ministry for the Environment and Water Resources followed suit, paying 28 micro-influencers with a combined reach of 100,000 to raise awareness on eco-friendly habits.
Micro-influencers are those with 1,000 to 30,000 followers on social media.
Traditional marketing firms are seeing their clients embrace influencers as the next wave of change.
About 85 per cent of W Communications Asia's clients are willing to work with influencers, said Ms Aly Ang, the firm's senior account director who manages the "hundreds" of influencers it works with.
She said: "It has definitely evolved from a niche strategy to a strategy that is pursued by most brands right now."
Mr Dennis Toh - who runs The Influencer Network and connects influencers with interested brands - said mega-influencers with follower numbers in the six figures can command $5,000 to $10,000 for a blog post and two social media engagements.
He said brands are increasingly favouring micro-influencers, who get $300 to $500 for a social media engagement.
He said: "The amount of people you can reach compared with the money you are spending... micro-influencers might make more sense than the high-profile ones."
Youtiao666's Miss Lee and Miss Tan, both alumni of Lasalle College of the Arts, have worked with a range of brands, from big beauty names including Kanebo, Sephora and Innisfree to tech giants Grab and Lazada and banks such as UOB.
Their friend and collaborator, Miss Nair - who has worked with brands such as NTUC Fairprice, Night Safari and ZoukOut - said Preetipls makes it easier for her to appear in a variety of marketing campaigns.
"It is like what would Preeti do in this situation? By using the character, I can weave her into a lot of different scenarios," said the 24-year-old.
But not every influencer is able to market anything, and this can lead to problems for the clients who engage them.
The Finance Ministry took some flak for its collaboration with influencers for Budget 2018, when some of the posts were found to be just screen grabs of the Budget 2018 website, with little added value.
Some influencers have also received backlash for being ignorant of the products they were pushing.
Ms Fiona Cher, who runs personal finance blog Budget Babe, criticised several influencers in a blog post in April last year for not understanding the terms of the Krisflyer UOB debit card, which they were promoting.
The 27-year-old, who takes about four to six hours to churn out a blog post, said: "A lot of influencers are broad, they cover wide categories... but finance can be difficult to understand, and you might not know what you might be getting into.
"Influencers need to take more effort because we get paid for it... You have to be responsible for ethical marketing."
Miss Jemimah Wei, 25, who has over 65,000 followers on Instagram and co-hosts an Internet TV show, agreed.
Some brands she has worked with - such as Airbnb and Disney - gave her freer creative rein, but she also chooses to work with those that fit her interests to ensure quality content.
"Everything I have online is an amplification of how I am in real life. I take pride in the blog posts I write, and I put in effort in what I write.
"You can earn money back, but you cannot earn trust back," Miss Wei said.
The key to quality influencer marketing lies in healthy collaboration.
Ms Cher observed that a lot of the content in sponsored posts tend to sound the same.
But this may not always be the fault of the influencer, as clients sometimes insist on certain marketing statements.
Miss Alicia Lau, senior account manager at public relations and digital marketing agency FleishmanHillard Singapore, said this is changing.
"More influencers nowadays do not just see themselves as a channel to post ads - they see themselves as creatives who produce content," she said.
"While some brands still need time to balance these influencers' input with their own brand message, they are becoming more flexible and open to co-creation efforts with influencers."
Ms Ang of W Communications added that influencers are also taking a step back to evaluate the kinds of campaigns they want to be involved in, sometimes even stating publicly that they will not accept sponsorship for products or services they do not believe in personally in a bid to build trust among their followers.
Youtiao666 took the step of starting their own creative agency, CWO, a year ago.
"I think what sets us apart from influencers is that we are personalities with a whole creative team. We work with our clients and participate actively in how the campaign is staged and we are also the talents," said Miss Lee, 24.
On their success, Miss Tan, 25, said: "We do not just regurgitate the content that was given to us. We come up with ideas on how to present the content."
Added Miss Lee: "We will convey the key messages that our clients want to bring across, but we will do it our way."
When news broke last month that the Ministry of Finance (MOF) had engaged some 50 influencers to promote Budget 2018, the reaction from netizens was swift and brutal, with some calling it ineffective and a waste of taxpayer money.
In a piece for media and marketing website Mumbrella, Mr Wesley Gunter of public relations agency Right Hook Communications said getting lifestyle bloggers to promote a financial product was like "eating soup with chopsticks".
As a digital native, I felt the MOF campaign - which aimed to reach out to the younger generation - was a little cringe-inducing, like an elderly relative who tries to connect by saying "so dope".
But it is not all wrong.
If you want to get young people interested in something, figuring out the platform they are on - in this case, Instagram - is not a bad starting point.
Still, the way the campaign was carried out left much to be desired.
Why am I, or people in general, on Instagram? It is a platform that relies entirely on videos or photos. It is all about aesthetics, and people are on it to scroll through beautiful, exciting or interesting posts.
Many of the influencers engaged for MOF's campaign uploaded generic shots of themselves to make tenuous links to the Budget. Some just uploaded screenshots of the Budget website.
While many of these posts garnered likes and comments comparable to what the influencers would usually get, I struggle to believe that those likes translated into actual interest.
Because as much as Instagram is a popular platform, it is one that, for most people, is ultimately for leisure.
"With the right personalities and the right platform, even a topic such as the Budget could have viral potential among millennials."
Why do influencers Chiara Ferragni (11.7 million followers) and Danielle Bernstein (1.7 million followers) have so many fans? Because they hang with celebrities, drape haute couture over themselves and are always in some exotic location enjoying a drink.
They are an emerging form of escapist entertainment - like romantic comedies and video games set in alternate universes.
But Budget 2018? That is not escapism. That is painfully real, what with the announcement that the goods and services tax will be raised to 9 per cent.
I don't really want to be reminded of financial planning or saving money or filing taxes when I am on Instagram. I am scrolling because I am taking a break.
Perhaps next time, MOF could engage personalities who can mount a more meaningful campaign.
Personalities who are more content-heavy, such as those who create their own videos and can offer their own developed ideas, would be more suited to the Budget. There are successful Singaporean personalities in this vein, and many of them already have loyal fanbases.
With the right personalities and the right platform, even a topic such as the Budget could have viral potential among millennials.
I mean, a ministry can dream, right?
This article was first published by Jan Lee & Yunita Ong on The New Paper