Influencer marketing has been a popular approach for most brands to do marketing through YouTuber or Instagrammer’s influence on social media. High engagement rate between influencers and followers has been the key to high conversion of marketing campaigns on the internet. According to a report, spending on influencer marketing for brands is going to come at $ 15 billion by 2021. And the influencer marketing industry does not show any signal of slowing down.
As Facebook registered a 12% growth in MAU in January, TikTok saw an 800% growth in its US user base since 2018, 73% of marketers have allocated more budget to influencer marketing campaigns with a background that brands were decreasing overall marketing budget.
Brands’ switch from traditional marketing channels, such as out-of-home, to social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, has been one of the remarkable marketing stories amid the pandemic.
Risks in Influencer Marketing
But it is a law that high return bears the high risk. Brands have to watch out for various risks existing in partnership with influencers. These risks make influencer marketing an uneasy sector for every brand to enter. Most newcomers smashed by numerous hidden risks or pitfalls existing in this untapped new marketing field.
For example, measurements of influencer marketing performance compared with other media channels are different. Various vanity metrics in influencer marketing have dazzled brands. Without deep knowledge in how to measure the performance of marketing campaigns on YouTube, such as CPA, CPT, CPM, CPC, engagement rate, impressions, reach, brands are not able to effectively interpret marketing performance as a way to improve future influencer marketing plans. There weren’t any specific outcomes or guaranteed metrics behind the spend from an influencer campaign.
Bad preparation and careless review will drive away a number of brands that overlook these pitfalls in influencer marketing. But today, we are going to discuss another risk residing in influencer marketing, potential notorious influencers. It’s common to see brands announce to cut ties with bad-behaved brand ambassadors. Compared with celebrities, influencers are more likely to have PR crisis. As influencers, especially those independent creators, the absence of a professional operation team makes them easy to make mistakes in public image maintenance and have a weak capability in PR management.
Recently, two mega-YouTubers are undergoing a negative scandal. How those brands who collaborated with them in influencer marketing will respond arouse our curiosity again. This is exactly a vivid risk management case in influencer marketing for us.
James Charles—“Holding myself accountable”
After several YouTube spats previously, the 21-year-old beauty star on YouTube is involved in a sexting scandal again. In an April 1 YouTube video, he addressed the allegations and conceded that the conversations with those underages shouldn’t have happened. Charles was accused of sending sexual messages to minors and he admitted that his behaviors were reckless and desperate. In the video, Charles said he had blocked them on Snapchat when he was aware that they were under 18.
This beauty guru has garnered 25.6 million subscribers on YouTube and 35 million followers on TikTok. By his great influence among the public, Charles has landed sponsorships with brands from Morphe, Sephora to Chipotle, and Laura’s Boutique. However, most brands who collaborated with or sponsored Charles haven’t give any response to this issue.
YouTube hasn’t responded directly. YouTube only told Variety that James Charles wouldn’t host the second season of its “Instant Influencer” show before Charles’s video was released. Facing multiple calls for demonetization of Charles’s videos, YouTube hasn’t made any response. But in light of a rape allegation, David Dobrik’s channel was demonetized by YouTube.
Regarding the brands associated with James, makeup brand Morphe is facing a boycott from makeup lovers as the brand stays silent on Charles’s sexting allegation. Morphe is even being bombarded by the “#BoycottMorphe” hashtag in over 200 tweets and in dozens of Instagram comments on Morphe’s official account.
As far as Morphe, they have parted ways with several major featured creators before. After YouTube Tati Westbrook accused Star and Dawson of having manipulated her into accusing Charles of sexual misconduct with boys in 2019, Morphe cut ties with YouTuber Shane Dawson and Jeffree Star in June 2020 because of this controversy. All commercial ties with Jeffree Star Cosmetics were ceased and the popular Conspiracy makeup collection marketed by Star and Dawson were also stopped selling.
Currently, the backlash to these brands that are adjacent to Charles can’t be ignored now. Those brands that have done influencer marketing with Charles have to suffer damage to their brand. With mounting pressure from customers, it’s unclear whether Morphe will do the same thing to Charles as to Star and Dawson in the future.
David Dobrik—Downfall of the YouTube favorite good boy
Over the course of last year, a number of friends and work partners of Dobrik stood out with allegations of sexual misconduct and bullying behaviors against themselves and other young content creators of his vlog squad. After Dobrik’s various misconducts and racist jock from 2017’s kissing prank made to Seth Francois to the recent rape allegation against a former member of Dobrik’s vlog squad, This good good boy’s reputation suffers a large backlash from the public.
According to Business Insider, 13 brands have cut ties with David Dobrik due to series of allegations including the recent sexual assault by a member of the squad. HelloFresh, Dollar Shave Club, DoorDash, General Mills, HBO Max, Facebook, and Audible also no longer intend to work with Dobrik.
On March 19, 2021, Dollar Shave Club terminated its work and cooperation with Dobrik and announced not to be a sponsor of his channel. The company said, “The actions and comments made by David Dobrik as well as some members of his team are very serious and do not align with DSC values. Sexual assault and hateful language of any kind is unacceptable in any environment. We’ve made the decision to end our relationship and cancel all planned activity.”
On March 25, 2021, following the rape allegation, YouTube temporarily suspends Dobrik from monetization for violating their Creator Responsibility policy.
Deal with the bad-behaved influencer in influencer marketing
Whether notorious celebrities or influencers who have caused outrage because of personal behaviors, continuing to cooperate with them definitely will bear associative negative effects and cause damages to the brand itself.
During preparation of influencer marketing
Before settling down the partnerships with influencers, it is really necessary to conduct background research over whether the partnered influencer has experienced unfavorable social records or public image crisis or has the potential to cause negative influence in the society. The right influencers to work with are not those who just fit your brand, but also those who enjoy positive comments and behave well in public space. Influencers who have the potential not to follow moral code are risky to partner in influencer marketing.
Scandals take place during your influencer marketing partnership
If influencers encounter serious and negative public opinion crises before the partnership with brands ends, how should brands do to respond and protect the business from hurting by the negative effects brought by influencers?
Keep silent or part way with them
In the two influencer marketing cases of James Charles and David Dobrik, brands who sponsored them responded in the opposite. Charles’s sponsors kept silent all along while Dobrik’s immediately made statements to keep a distance from the influencer and end current and future cooperation resolutely.
As brands, which approach should be taken to make the influencer marketing partnership cause less damage to business? To figure it out, brands must evaluate the gain and loss of your reaction. When the number of people who boycott the brands because of the affiliated influencers is not that large, and their loss made to your brand is far less than your profit from this partnership, cutting ties with the influencer might be not worthy. However, if the influencers commit a crime or result in extremely bad influence on society, no matter how profitable the influencer marketing partnership is, dropping them immediately is one of the corporate social responsibilities.
Influencers’ moral issues and personal reputation crisis is a black swan event in influencer marketing. All brands must watch out when starting a partnership with influencers. Otherwise, immeasurable losses will be made due to a lack of precaution.