Influencer marketing, from pets to podcasts – BPG’s Taghreed Oraibi

TAGHREED ORAIBI, Business director, BPG Group

Influencer marketing is continually evolving, and it is not a bubble we expected to burst. When the National Media Council (NMC) enforced mandatory licences on commercialised influencers, costing AED30,000, we expected influencers to slow down because that is the price of a basic Rolex. Instagram also shocked the world recently by removing likes to decrease the pressure among social media users. Although a few tears were shed when Australian influencer Mikaela Testa had a meltdown saying, “I’ve put my blood, sweat, and tears into this for it to be ripped away,” influencer marketing is still very powerful and new platforms are taking over and creating more influencers. And there’s the rise of micro- and nano-influencers, who can be beneficial for marketers because they help in promoting brands and reaching a niche audience without charging Kardashian-level fees. So, what does the future hold beyond pictures of food, Mykonos, memes, and filtered selfies?

Humans are so last season. Many people are now following computer-generated characters, who are going viral faster than Salt Bae. According to the BPG Group’s 2019 Social Media Influencers Survey (produced in partnership with research company YouGov), nearly 38 per cent of users across the UAE and KSA follow a virtual influencer. Instagram’s very own Lil Miquela boasts 1.7 million followers and a successful music career. You might also love Japanese bot Imma, who amassed 150,000 followers, and Dubai’s own virtual beauty, Laila Blue. None of these women is real, but they live just like regular humans with money and influence, which makes them so relatable.

Like Garfield and Scooby Doo, pets are influencing harder than ever. Even though pets should not be called influencers, we cannot ignore the significant impact of memes by Grumpy Cat, which were a global phenomenon. Content featuring fluffy pets is breaking the internet. Pet posts gain maximum engagement, and marketers are using them more than ever. This is a classical conditioning tactic, where cute pets invoke a lot of positive emotions and people find their promoted products more appealing. Mercedes collaborated with husky-wolf cross Loki, who has 2 million followers, and it is not the only brand to advertise with these ‘petfluencers’. Even the UAE has its own pupfluencer, Bob Al-Wong, who is Emirates-born and woofing through life with more than 8,000 followers.

BPG Group’s Social Media Influencers Survey showed that 77 per cent of UAE and KSA consumers believe that an influencer’s content quality trumps their number of followers. About 7 in 10 respondents follow influencers purely based on their engaging content. This leads to higher investment in creating quality content that is engaging, relevant and shareable. Content will move past plain old selfies to serve a purpose whether in an informative, emotional, romantic, fictional, dramatic or humorous way.

Paid content is no longer fooling anyone. Nearly 73 per cent of consumers in the UAE and KSA can tell if an influencer’s content is unauthentic. Ethical transparency is essential for legitimacy. Therefore, brands and government bodies are enforcing stricter rules regarding sponsored content, and influencers must use hashtags #Sponsored or #Advertisement if they are paid.

Nearly 78 per cent of people know that influencers can buy followers, likes, and comments. This is fraudulent behaviour, and brands can lose billions by investing in pretend influencers. Modern analytical tools are making it easier to combat this.

The UAE is always taking steps to crack down on false advertising. We can expect further protections with local laws like the Coogan Act in the US, where children may not be exploited for monetary gain.

Companies are focusing their influencer budgets based on tangible results, rather than engagement. Businesses are savvier in calculating ROI from influencer campaigns, and some are merging with affiliate marketing, which is a win-win for influencers to earn a share of profits for each sale.

Instagammers, YouTubers, SnapChatters, Twitterers, and the list goes on. Now with TikTok being the latest platform taking the younger generation by storm come TikTok-ers. Millennials and zoomers are consistently binge-watching videos on the platform, and several new TikTok influencers are gaining momentum in the region. So, marketers, it’s now our chance to tap into the fastest growing social media platform in the world.

Influencers are shifting away from mobile devices to the silver screen and out-of-home media, and using their popularity beyond digital advertising. You can see examples in Enjy Kiwan, who now stars in a Nestle outdoor campaign, and Al Anood Badr (Lady Fozaza), who featured in a Galaxy TVC.

Podcasts have rapidly gained a lot of popularity in the region. According to a Markettiers survey, 1.3 million people listen to podcasts on the regular and there are more than 400 podcasts in the UAE alone, covering topics from women’s empowerment to business, tech, arts and culture. Podcast hosts are the latest influencers, and this is another marketing investment opportunity to tap into diverse
audiences, especially for business- and sector specific content.