Five Influencer Fails (& What You Can Learn from Them)

  • Influencer marketing has become a valuable tool for businesses trying to reach a larger audience. 
  • However, many campaigns fall flat because brands fail to find the right influencers. 
  • Marketers need to recognize the amount of hard work that goes into creating content and not take advantage as much as possible.
  • Provide clear instructions, prompt payment, and make sure that the influencer you select has an image that aligns with your brand. 

Influencer marketing has become a valuable tool for businesses trying to reach a larger audience… when done correctly. It can deliver incredible ROI, build a positive brand image, and increase sales; however, many influencer marketing campaigns fall flat because brands fail to find influencers with the right qualifications. Here are the top five biggest influencer failures in marketing campaigns and the lessons you can learn from them. 

Fail #1: Coming across as tone-deaf

When creating a marketing campaign, it’s always best to be socially aware and sensitive to your audience. Brands across multiple industries have come under fire for ad campaigns that they expected to be a hit but took a turn for the worse once they were shown to the public. 

As recently as 2012, Pop Chips came under intense scrutiny for putting Ashton Kutcher in brownface. The actor was supposed to portray a Bollywood producer looking for love, but the advertisement came across as insensitive and received backlash for perpetuating a negative stereotype. While Kutcher did other Pop Chip ads playing characters such as a hippie, a fashionista, and a biker-club member, Kutcher’s portrayal of the Bollywood character left a sour taste in the audience’s mouth, overshadowing the campaign.

The ad was quickly scrubbed from Pop Chip’s official Facebook and YouTube pages, but the damage had already been done. With “cancel culture” at an all-time high, it is important that companies remember to do their due diligence before putting out work with their brand name on it. Similar to Pepsi’s commercial with Kendall Jenner, the Pop Chips scandal could have been easily avoided with a little bit of research and perhaps a diverse focus group to provide feedback.

Fail #2: Not being prepared

One of the worst mistakes a company can make is to be unprepared for the success of their new marketing endeavor. There have been many instances where brands are seemingly caught off guard by the type of attention an influencer or celebrity will bring to their business leading to crashed websites and products selling out too quickly, leaving customers dissatisfied.

When working with an influencer for the first time, take a deep dive into their brand. The amount of engagement they receive, the number of followers, and the type of campaign you will be collaborating on will affect the amount of traffic you should expect when the ads are posted. For example, when Adidas Originals collaborated with Kanye West to create the Yeezy shoe brand, fans flocked to the Adidas website to snag a pair. Web servers crashed several times during the launch, which was surely frustrating to those who were hoping to sport the fancy new footwear. 

Fail #3: Not having clear communication 

When working with an influencer, clear communication is the key to a successful campaign. Before beginning the influencer campaign, you need to have a clear goal in mind. Determining whether you’re aiming for engagement with your brand, increased sales, or simply more brand visibility will help you set clear guidelines and expectations for the campaign and the influencer you’re partnering with. 

You may also want to consider providing guidance regarding the production of the content, especially if you’re working with nano-influencers who may not have much experience in creating promotional content. Failing to provide adequate information about your product or brand can lead to weak results for your campaign. Similarly, not providing a clear outline of your expectations for the type of media, captions, and hashtags of each post will result in potential violations of FTC guidelines and an overall disorganized-looking post.

Fail #4: Working with an influencer whose brand doesn’t align with yours

This one probably seems like common sense, but you would be surprised at the number of times that influencers have worked with a brand that doesn’t align with their values. If your brand focuses on sustainability for instance, it is wise to partner with an influencer who is already talking about sustainability on their own. By doing this you will be reaching an audience that is more likely to take an interest in your brand and products and the partnership will seem more genuine. 

Influencers work hard to build trust with their followers and working with a brand that does not have the same morals as them will cause followers to be suspicious of the marketing campaign being a money grab, which isn’t beneficial for your business. 

One of the most dramatic examples of this is James Charles’ partnership with Sugar Bear Hair, a vitamin company whose product is said to promote better hair growth. After making several Instagram stories promoting Sugar Bear Hair, Charles quickly disclosed that he only took the brand deal in exchange for VIP tickets to Coachella 2019. Not only did Charles’ partnership with the vitamin brand seem out of place with his typical content, his decision to promote Sugar Bear Hair over Halo Beauty, a competing vitamin company run by his close friend and fellow influencer, Tati Westbrook, shrouded the ads in controversy. Ultimately neither Charles nor Sugar Bear Hair had a lot to gain from this exchange, as Charles’ audience quickly became more interested in the drama surrounding the Westbrook and Charles feud, rather than the vitamins. 

Fail #5:  Treating influencers unfairly

With the rise of influencer marketing, brands are beginning to treat influencers as a commodity rather than as a human. Marketers need to recognize the amount of hard work that goes into creating content and not take advantage as much as possible. Allowing influencers to have creative control over the content that they produce is one of the ways that marketers can make an influencer’s job easier. The content will seem more authentic to their audience and put less pressure on the influencer to stay within rigid guidelines that may not align with their brand image. 

Let’s also remember that influencers create content for a living, and should be paid adequately. Underpaying or withholding payment for months after a project is completed could lead to the influencer exposing your brand for not holding up your end of the bargain. One example of this is when finance and lifestyle influencer, Aja Dang, created content for ASICS in 2017 and claims that she was not paid for two years. After calling the brand out in a YouTube video, many of Aja’s followers took to social media to demand that the brand pay the influencer what she deserved, with some followers even commenting that they would no longer be supporting ASICS and buying their products. 

You can watch her TikTok video here.

Ready to launch your own influencer marketing campaign?

The marketing experts at Redefine Marketing Group can help you plan a successful campaign that won’t leave you fending off the Twitter tyrants. Contact us today – we’ll be happy to answer your digital marketing, paid media, or SEO questions.

Author avatar
Jason Martinez
Jason is a Cal Poly Pomona Alum, extreme fan of marketing, and social media advocate. As a Brand Marketing Manager at Redefine Marketing Group, he is responsible for the development and execution of strategy for reputation management, link building, and social media marketing for both the agency and its clients.
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