Diageo, Samsung and eBay chief marketers respond to Unilever's influencer challenge

The answer is to work only with influencers who are genuine and are part of your brand story, said top marketers from Diageo, Samsung and eBay.

Cannes panel (L-R): Mathieu, Saller, van Dedem, and Blau
Cannes panel (L-R): Mathieu, Saller, van Dedem, and Blau

Syl Saller, chief marketing officer at Diageo, Marc Mathieu, chief marketing officer of Samsung Electronics America, and Godert van Dedem, vice-president and chief marketing officer of eBay EMEA were on a panel hosted by The Economist at Cannes when they were asked about Unilever's pledge to stop working with influencers who buy followers.

Van Dedem agreed with the movement to work with more genuine influencers, but he thinks the conversation needs to be moved further.

"What I want to do is give our sellers a voice, rather than influencers who have a following and are willing to write a post. It should be from people who are authentic and genuine. I am going to try and shift our influencer spend to that class of influencers, they are specific to eBay and authentic and their stories will be helpful to buyers," van Dedem said.

Mathieu agreed wholeheartedly, because the focus is to use Samsung's products for creation – the story it wants to tell focuses on creators, not influencers.

"We didn’t work with Casey Neistat for his influence, it was for his creativity and genius. I’d rather that the people who use our products be the ones we market, amplifying their great work rather than using them for their networks," he said. 

Diageo's approach to influencer marketing focuses on the selective use of big-name influencers, such as David Beckham and Sean Combs (P Diddy), Saller explained. "We work with them seriously, it's not just a product endorsement relationship. Diddy creates marketing and makes critical choices in terms of the communications consumers might see when it comes to Ciroc [an eau-de-vie Vodka]."

Beyond the big names, Diageo is keen on harnessing the hundreds and thousands of mixologists it works with around the world, Saller continued. "Working with people who are truly into drinks and bartending and using them in a truly naturally symbiotic relationship."

Ths sentiment of serving the community they market to was a continuous theme throughout the panel moderated by Rosie Blau, editor of 1843 The Economist.

"We talk about people using their phones too much, but really, they're using the platforms too much," Mathieu said. "But who engineered these phones to bombard people with messages? Us! The marketers! We have to be smarter about tech as it grows smarter, and we have a collective responsibility in what we do with it."

Marketers should also take the lead in keeping the giants, such as Facebook and Google on point in terms of safety, viewability and hygiene, Saller added. "It's not enough to rail, 'Oh they're too big', we have to hold them accountable."

The industry needs a mindset shift, agreed Mathieu. "Because we should not be marketing just to sell, but also marketing to serve."

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