Influencers should be "their own creative director" and be involved with ad agencies from the start of a campaign's creation process, influencer agency Takumi’s Adam Williams has argued.
Speaking to Campaign ahead of his speech at Advertising Week Europe this afternoon, Takumi’s chief revenue officer said the controversial move would get the best out of influencers as brand spokespeople.
Last year, nearly two-thirds of major global brands said they expected to increase their budget for social media influencers, who are paid to promote products and services within their feed. This morning, News UK became the latest company to set up a dedicated influencer division.
Williams said influencers' rise in importance is shown by how media agencies are listing them as items on a media plan, instead of setting aside a separate budget for influencer marketing.
However, he warned that brands need to be clear about what their strategy is for using an influencer, other than generally wanting to reach younger consumers online.
"Are they using them to drive lead generation, or is it brand awareness, or intent to purchase? You can also use content on other channels and just making sure it’s a much more holisic approach," Williams explained.
However, no matter the brand strategy, Williams strongly recommends that influencers are involved in forming the campaign strategy at the outset with ad agencies, rather than being given orders at execution stage.
He said: "If you want great creative work, you have to allow the influencers to be their own creative director – the brand has needs and wants, but you still need to allow the storytelling to happen in that process."
Williams went on: "What we’ve found is the brief might be quite rigid and doesn’t allow that flexibility. Influencers need to feed back to the client on what works for their audience."
Not everyone is entirely convinced, though. Harsh Kapadia, executive creative director at VMLY&R, warned that finding the creative idea needed to precede the influencer-seeking stage.
He said: "Influencer marketing can be a pretty lazy approach to creativity. An influencer isn’t an idea in the same way that a partnership, a sponsorship or VR isn’t an idea.
"We need brilliant creative brand ideas to start with and then we need to connect with people at the right time and place. Only then – and only if it suits the brand, idea and the audience – does it make sense to find a relevant influencer.
"Just like with any collaboration, it is essential to work closely with influencers – whether they are a human or a pet."
Williams acknowledged that, as influencer marketing grows, influencers are getting more savvy about commercial opportunities and needed to guard against coming across as inauthentic to their audience.
"If people don’t do it properly, the audience is savvy and they know when they’re being sold to. We have to have '#ad' within it so people know it’s paid-for content and it’s good the ASA have stepped up chasing down celebrities who are not doing that," Williams said. "However, they need to do more around gifting. They need to make it obvious what is being gifted."