When have influencers taken over the world? We don’t know exactly but Google search history shows how this term has blown up big time in late 2015. So, in just a few years, the phenomenon has changed everything – our media landscape, the way brands are advertising and of course sneaker seeding lists. Meanwhile, the sentiment is slowly changing.
While the influencer lifestyle shows no signs of slowing down, there is more and more negativity in the air. To some, influencers are leeches to society and symbols of the end of the world. In fact, the negative connotations have become so dominant, that even influencers themselves don’t like the term anymore – and prefer to be called “content creators”. At the same time, sneaker brands are going full steam with influencer partnerships, with names like Bella Hadid, Kylie Jenner or Selena Gomez in the spotlight.
London’s Leila Fataar has seen all of this take shape. She’s been involved in marketing and the sneaker industry for over 15 years. In this time, she founded and ran her own creative communications agency, Spin Agency, for 10 years, before joining adidas as Global Director of PR & Social from 2012 to 2015. Back in London, she now runs Platform 13, which is less of an agency and more of a network of freelancers. Always in search of authenticity and “real influence”, Leila has been challenging brands who blindly follow the influencer trend. We sat down with her to find what’s wrong – and what the alternatives might be.
Leila, everyone seems to have this negative opinion on influencers now. At the same time, all the big sneaker brands have put them at the center of their marketing efforts. Is this going to change anytime soon? Where are we right now?
For me, right now, it’s mass confusion in a hype-driven world and TOO much product. Added to that, a real lack of understanding of true influence and a lack of industry-wide measurement tools. We have always worked with influential people, people who have earned their right to “influence” – through pushing the culture forward and making impact in and for the sneaker community. Sometimes these people don’t have 1m+ followers – not to mention the murky world of fake/bought followers – usually because they are busy actually doing the work to move things – they are truly influential.
Let’s analyze the problem: What’s wrong with influencers? What’s wrong with a person who has a great reach, talks to a lot of people and has an influence on them?
Nothing is wrong with this, if they have the expertise and authority on the subject or are a part of the culture. And when I mean “part of the culture”, I mean a true fan or someone making an impact for the community. It’s never been about numbers for me – it’s always been about the person and their credentials.
In the influencer world everything is based on “reach”. Is that the wrong approach?
Traditionally, big brand’s measure of success is how many eyeballs saw the ad (reach). This is usually measured through how many people bought the magazine and watched the TV show – this was done through media agencies who had no connection to the culture. Then “influencer” marketing came in, which was sold in as “authentic” but still measured – and usually bought – in the same way. But how can you measure a truly authentic relationship like this – that happens over time and effort? And why do you think your product or brand is special to people who work with multiple brands (for massive payment) in exactly the same way? Call it advertising and I am happy, but please don’t call it “influence”.
You’ve said things like “Rest in peace, influencer marketing”. If that’s the case, what comes next?
For me, it’s about a positive impact in the world – both IRL and online. It’s about moving things forward. It’s not enough for those that influence – including brands – to only to be product-driven. For me, the question needs to be: “How can you use your product or service to make positive impact?” That’s not always trying to save the world (politics, environment, though anything to help here would be amazing), but also giving people in the community you are trying to be part of opportunity and platforms.
Are there also “good influencers” and can you give an example from the sneaker world?
Gary Warnett (RIP) and many others.
Can you give a negative example of influencer marketing?
Amongst some of the better collabs or “influencer” campaigns that Nike have done recently, one that missed the mark for me was the Bella Hadid, Nike Cortez project. I struggle with any “celebs” that have no connection to the culture, other than being the “model” or “hype” person of the moment.
How important is authenticity?
It is the only thing that will cut through the noise out there for brands. It is hard to do, but for me, the only way.
Finally, you’ve also warned many times that influencers shouldn’t overlook the risks of one of the big platforms such as Instagram changing their algorithm. What is your advice to these people?
Find something you can do when the algorithm changes and you are no longer “relevant”. Learn a skill, get some experience in the career you want to be in and stop feeling entitled. Just because you have loads of followers doesn’t mean you can step into a senior role in your choice of industry.
What is the next big change you see coming?
The next generation don’t see these social platforms and tech as separate from their lives. IRL and online blend into each other seamlessly. Also, they live in BETA, so testing new features and tech updates as when they happen is normal. For me, brands need to have an experimental integrated approach to marketing. AI is key for brands – they need to understand what this means for them from a business POV, and AR will become mainstream.