Ever since advertising has existed, we’ve used famous people to sell products.
Ronald Reagan or John Wayne posing with cigarettes.
Everyone from Oprah to Julie Andrews in fur: "What becomes a legend most?"
Steve McQueen for Breitling (or maybe it was Omega).
John Travolta for Rolex (or maybe it was Breitling).
David Beckham for Nike (or maybe it was Adidas).
It used to be known as "video vampire": unless there’s a locked-in connection, we don’t remember the product, just the celebrity.
"Have you seen the Robert De Niro/Harvey Keitel ad for insurance/bread, or the Elton John ad for Snickers/John Lewis?"
But with the advent of a new media, everything old can be rediscovered, renamed and re-sold as an exciting new opportunity.
Introducing – TA-DAH! – "influencer marketing".
Same old thing: pay someone famous to mention your brand, but the big difference is it’s now online, and a whole new industry is born.
(For instance, Selina Gomez gets $500,000 per sponsored post.)
Does it work, don’t be silly, it’s new – it must work.
So how come an Instagram influencer, @Arii (real name Arianna Renee), with 2.6 million followers couldn’t launch a clothing line because none of her followers bought any?
This is an excerpt from her post.
"Hi, it breaks my heart to have to write this post, as y’all know I released my brand.
"I’ve poured my heart into this drop. For my photo shoot I flew out a photographer and make-up artist. I rented out a huge photo studio for the day so I could get as many videos and promo shots as I could.
"But unfortunately the company that I’m working with goes based on your first drop sales.
"In order for them to order and make my products I have to sell at least 36 pieces.
"I was getting such good feedback that people loved it and were going to buy it, but no-one has. I sent out PR packages to friends but I didn’t get any feedback from them.
"Aside from that, people who I thought would support me didn’t and they didn’t share any of my posts, sounds bitchy but like no shade to anyone.
"I’ve supported everyone’s music or whatever they’ve asked for my support on, but I couldn’t get it in return."
So that’s how effective an influencer with 2.6 million followers is at launching a brand.
She needed to "sell at least 36 pieces" and she couldn’t.
Take a look at the numbers: 1% of her followers would have been 25,000 people.
"36 pieces" means she needed just 0.00001% of her followers to buy one piece each.
One of the online publications, commenting on her failure, said: "We need to stop focusing on vanity-metrics: number of followers, trending on social media, views, likes etc."
Another said: "Some people will launch a business prior to creating a business model to support their concept. Sounds like she truly didn’t understand the nature of her target audience, market, product, revenue generating model, or marketing strategy."
Another put it more simply: "The truth is your followers aren’t your customers."
Of course, you could wonder if she bought her followers, as so many influencers do.
But if she’d bought them, she’d know they were just bots.
And that would be really stupid, to try to sell something back to bots you’d paid for.
Still, lots of people buying influencers don’t know if they’re actually buying bots.
They’re just impressed with the number of followers the influencer has.
And assuming the influencer mentioning the brand will automatically get people to buy.
Which doesn’t seem a great improvement on the old "video vampire" problem.
Dave Trott is the author of Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three