This past Wednesday, influencers and influencer marketers alike (myself included) went into an uproar because of an Ad Age article titled Under the Influence: The Dishonest and Wasteful Practice of Influencer Marketing.

The author, Kevin Twomey, paints influencer marketing with a broad brush of negativity, stating, “It’s time for marketing professionals to say goodbye to influencers and re-focus on what matters.”

The crux of his argument is grounded in three main points:

  1. Influencer marketing is bad because you can’t track ROI
  2. Influencer marketing is fraudulent
  3. That influencers aren’t actually trusted

He’s wrong.

Influencer marketing is efficient, effective, and awesome.

Below is my rebuttal.

Influencer ROI

Kevin writes that, “The inability to prove the ROI of influencer marketing should be enough to convince any half-decent marketer to de-prioritize it.”

I’m not sure where Kevin got the idea that you can’t track the ROI on influencer marketing, because you can.

Take a quick glance at Instagram and you’ll likely see influencers using affiliate codes…affiliate codes which are specifically used to track ROI. There’s countless other ways to do it, but that’s one that should be obvious to anyone with a mobile phone and an Instagram account.

Every time I’ve worked on campaigns where the metric for success was a measurable ROI, influencers have performed incredibly well. I’ve done campaigns where influencers cut businesses’ cost per acquisition by 50% overnight. These results are not particularly unusual or exceptional.

The author goes on to claim that marketers like L’Oreal that are dedicating 75% of their budgets to influencer marketing are “reckless, lazy and negligent.” This seems odd, given the success the makeup world has had with influencers. Most recently, Shane Dawson and Jeffree Star’s Conspiracy Collection sold one million makeup palettes in 30 minutes. The duo drove so much traffic that they crashed Shopify and broke Morphe sales records, bringing an estimated $35 million in revenue.

L’Oreal would be “reckless, lazy and negligent” not to invest in influencer marketing.

Influencers Are Fraudulent

Kevin goes on to make the case that influencers are “artificially inflating their numbers by buying fake followers.”

Sure — I’ll give that to him. There are people who buy fake followers or fake engagement like views and likes. But this is a major straw man argument. The idea that “since fake followers and bots don’t buy products, it’s a bum deal for brands” to do influencer marketing is ludicrous. How do you explain the times I’ve worked with influencers where crowds have shown up within minutes of a tweet going out? If influencers have so many fake followers that its a bum deal for brands, then how do you explain this, this, or the turnout to this (a full 10 years ago)?

Fake followers is virtually a nonissue for anyone remotely familiar with the space, or social media in general. If you’re really worried about fake followers, there are plenty of services you could purchase to do audience analysis and put your mind at ease.

The hype around this is overblown.

Influencers Aren’t Trusted

Kevin’s last point is that “influencer content is not more authentic,” and he references fashion influencer Marissa Casey Fuchs (aka @fashionambitionist) and her fake wedding proposal/scavenger hunt fiasco last year as an example to make his point.

It is true there have been some pretty ridiculous stunts and bad actors out there. However, we don’t live in an era where influencers have to hide the fact that they’re partnered with brands or be otherwise deceptive. That’s not the norm, and that’s not the path to success.

The best brand partnerships are celebrated by fans.

Recently, David Dobrik gifted his friend a Lamborghini — and his fans loved it. The whole thing was made possible by a partnership with video game developer Electronic Arts to promote the new installment in its Need for Speed franchise. Everyone involved was stoked: the audience got awesome content, David got to shoot something incredibly big and ambitious, and the brand got a video that generated tens of millions of views and got a ton of press.

As my co-worker Christopher Metoyer recently pointed out, mega beauty influencer James Charles is another great example. His promo quip “use code James for 10% off” has become so iconic to his fans that they have created supercuts. And James himself has started to use the phrase on his merch.

Bottom line: influencer marketing works. That is absolutely not in question. Those with experience in the influencer space know how to measure their campaigns, identify appropriate and relevant influencers, and work with them to create something that is a win/win/win for brands, creators, and fans.

Kevin claims the ad industry needs to “stop chasing vanity metrics and unproven tactics, and go back to the fundamentals of marketing and advertising.” If Kevin wants to go backward, that’s fine. More opportunity for myself and my peers, who’d rather continue to innovate in a space that has time and time again proven effective, efficient, and a hell of a lot of fun.


Brendan Gahan is a partner and chief social officer at Mekansim (Epic Signal), with over 13 years of experience in influencer marketing.

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