Influencer marketing back in vogue amid COVID-19 lockdown

The industry may not be immune to the financial ripple effects

NEW DELHI: It was just a few months back that the marketing industry was in the process of re-evaluating the perks of influencer marketing against the many losses it carried, including fake influencers, low conversion rates, and the omnipresent nature of it taking away its novel charm. Many argued that this could be the time when influencer marketing will lose its momentum.

However, the current times have made, once again, influencer marketing a popular phenomenon amongst marketers. Be it the government using Bollywood celebrities to promote hygiene and urging people to follow the lockdown or brands using them to promote various products, influencers are a raging phenomenon once again.

The Maverics founder and CEO Chetan Mahajan notes, “COVID-19 has left most of us with a lot of spare time, anxiety and depleted avenues of earning. The internet has been the saviour both for news updates and entertainment. Staying connected has never been more important, with people and businesses relying on social media to stay connected with friends and consumers, apart from being entertained. Facebook and Instagram have seen a 40 per cent increase in usage due to COVID-19.”

Surely, people are increasingly relying on digital mediums to keep themselves sane and kicking in these tough times. As per BARC and Nielsen, time spent on smartphones by a single user has gone up by at least 6.2 per cent, while video-on-demand apps have gone up by at least three per cent during the lockdown period.

Television has also attained popularity in these times, with Doordarshan, to the envy and surprise of many leading the game, gaining upper hand. However, most advertisers are not able to cash in on the opportunity, given the market uncertainty.

Do Your Thng founder Ankit Agarwal explains the phenomenon. “The COVID-19 pandemic has two direct impacts. One is that the global spend on TV, print and OOH ad market declined. This has compelled companies to prioritise digital strategies. Two, the consumer began devoting extraordinarily more time to social media and creators who dominate the platform. This led to the realisation that there is no better, unobtrusive way to stay on top of consumer’s minds right now than cashing in on creators.”

He adds, “As a consequence, influencer marketing has seen a significant upturn. The Drum even predicts a more than 22 per cent increase in social media spending because of the pandemic.”

Media Moments MD Sandeep Sreekumar contributes further, “The outburst of COVID-19 has gripped almost every sector and brands are battling it out to retain their position in the market. In a scenario such as this, it is essential for brands to stay relevant to their consumers. Brands are leveraging influencer marketing more to keep the customers engaged. Brands are involving influencers at a faster pace than before to churn out significant content laced with key brand messages that are high on ROI and specific in terms of targeting.”

Brands are also relying on the great connect and goodwill that these influencers have among their followers to drive positive messaging. Not every plug is an ad, but is, in fact, a positive contribution towards keeping the society educated and motivated.

Everymedia Technologies Pvt Ltd CEO Gautam B Thakker highlights, “The brand’s approach to the audience has become more sensitive and relevant with the aim of helping the situation. They are mindful of tone and messaging now more than ever. As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, we’ve seen influencers help spread the message, first on social distancing and then on self-isolation.”

“We could see brands getting more involved in these types of influencer partnerships going forward or enlisting influencers to promote their own initiatives which aim to spread a positive message as well as generate funds for those in need,” he said.  

The Marcom Avenue director Divanshi Gupta believes that the trend has also earned the influencers the right to better pay. “Now, brands have to highly depend on the creativity of the influencers they are in collaboration with and expect them to produce content and weave storytelling in their branding. This add-on responsibility on the influential celebrity (be it nano, micro or people with huge followership) has earned the right to better pay, regardless of the volume increase in the opportunities.”

However, Agarwal feels that influencers are not free from the ripple effect of the crisis and might bear a brunt on their fees.

Sreekumar agrees that with all organisations deploying strategies to reduce costs, the budgets allocated by the brands for influencer marketing might still be restricted considering the uncertainty of the situation.

“Few brands are also considering other means of engagement such as half-barter and half-paid in order to mitigate the situation,” he says.

Mahajan says that renegotiation and re-strategising are going to be the natural outcomes of this situation like any other financial crisis. “Most of the marketers will go back to the drawing board to rehash their marketing strategy for the post-COVID-19 world which is likely to be very different from where we left it in February 2020. Influencers who are creative and get high engagement will emerge as winners while others will bear the brunt of renegotiated contracts.”

Thakker feels that even influencers are willing to rework their rates given the nature of the market. “Marketing budgets, in general, are being tightened exponentially with every penny spent being much more scrutinised. Campaigns are definitely being paused and influencers are reducing rates.”

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