Media Buying Briefing: Influencer marketing looks to grow with AI avatars and shoppable content

This article is part of Digiday’s coverage of its Digiday Media Buying Summit. More from the series →

With the influencer marketing business getting more competitive, agencies that specialize in the field are testing trends from AI avatars to social commerce to find new ways to grow.

The influencer space has gotten more crowded in just a few years, which has resulted in brand expenditure spread across more influencers and reduced each’s share of dollars. It’s created greater competition among the different platforms, according to influencer platform Collabstr’s 2024 Influencer Marketing Report.

Based on data from 35,000 brands and 80,000 influencers, Collabstr estimates the influencer market size will grow 13.7% to $19.8 billion in 2024. However, with the number of user-generated content creators up 93% year-over-year as more enter the market, the brand spending will dip to $214 per influencer partnership — down some 16.8% from the previous year. Across 10,000 paid influencer campaigns, 77% of influencer marketing budgets were spent on influencers in the U.S., an estimated 6% decrease from the same data from last year, per the report.

Expanding AI experiments, in-app shopping and monetization features across social media, which represent a mini-cavalry riding to the rescue, could help the market continue to grow steadily — only, they also bring them ethical and authenticity concerns in some areas.

Mixed feelings on AI

Agencies remain divided on the potential of AI-generated content and AI influencers as brands began testing them. Ryan Detert, CEO at Influential, said his agency has been experimenting with AI influencers for about five years, including creating campaigns with virtual influencers Lil Miquela and Knox Frost.

“AI Influencers have grown and morphed over the years, from static images to full video and sound,” Detert said. “There was a period where their proliferation had slowed, but the rapid ascent of generative AI has really reinvigorated the trend.”

Yet other influencer agencies remain hesitant about the authenticity of using virtual influencers. James Brownstein, general manager at Poster Child, said the influencer agency has not tested AI influencers “because they [are not] an effective replacement for higher-level talent.”

Brownstein added that AI influencers “feel gimmicky” — and that AI holds more promise for influencers in performance marketing campaigns, for instance, “[b]ecause the fandom experience isn’t as critical and it’s a cost-effective alternative.”

Kelly Dye, vp of influencer strategy at Acorn Influence, a part of agency New Engen, concurred that AI’s use is better applied beyond personalities, and is also not developing AI influencers. To Dye, AI is better applied to producing scale and optimizing for influencer campaigns — because AI avatars would seem “at odds” with a model of using “real content from real people.”

Social shopping

Thanks to the spread of shoppable content across social media and other platforms, influencer marketing may see growing investments especially when targeting Gen Z shoppers. With the introduction of Instagram Shopping and TikTok Shop, influencers can directly connect their content with the product and purchase process.

“The exponential growth of ecommerce and shoppable content on social has opened up new avenues for UGC-style advertising,” said Hannah Grobmyer, vp of client solutions at Kepler Group. “The marrying of these two approaches brings the best features out of both formats, which historically may have felt disjointed for the consumer.”

Shea Carter, vp of social and influencer at agency The Social Element, agreed that there has been exponential growth in social commerce — especially as affiliate marketing is contributing to the trend.

“[It is] empowering creators to sign up with various programs to receive commissions on purchases that come from the links they share, giving brands tangible and clear ROI when evaluating their influencer and creator partnerships,” Carter said.

Part of the reason for the category’s growth is that it’s working with younger generations. Some 72% of Gen Z consumers discover new products on TikTok, more than 60% on YouTube and more than 50% on Instagram, per commerce agency Envision Horizons.

Eden Lipke, strategy director at agency Movers+Shakers, agreed that TikTok Shop is a must in “reaching Gen Z and Alpha… in 2024. We know Gen Z and Gen Alpha are turning to TikTok more than Google for search, which includes product discovery.”

The numbers seem to back up Instagram and TikTok’s popularity — with influencers charging higher on those platforms recently. Currently, the average price creators charge on Instagram is $418, some 15% higher than 2023, while the average is $520 on TikTok, around 13% higher than last year, according to Collabstr.

In other words, influencer marketing is here to stay. Agencies that want to be part of that world will need to stay on top of these trends — which I will discuss onstage today at Digiday’s Media Buying Summit with Billion Dollar Boy’s Marie La France, Trade School’s Desiree Marchetti Russell and James Nord at Fohr.

Color by numbers

Even as TikTok and Universal Music Group duel it out over music rights on the platform, the social app generated record ad revenue at year-end, surpassing $1 billion in Q4 2023. More from MediaRadar:

  • On TikTok from Jan. 1, 2023 through Dec. 31, 2023, the sample showed some $3.8 billion was spent by around 30,000 companies advertising in 2023.
  • In 2023, an average of 11,800 companies advertised on TikTok, with more than 13,000 advertisers on the platform each month from May through August. The top five advertisers overall:, Apple, Comcast, DoorDash and The Walt Disney Company – which combined spent $284 million during the year.
  • The monthly average spend was $318 million, peaking in November 2023 with monthly spend hitting $426 million.
  • The quarterly average totaled $954 million, with Q4 peak spending at nearly $1.2 billion – 43% more than $805 million spent during Q1 2023.

Takeoff & landing

  • Another management shakeup within GroupM under new CEO Sharb Farjami: JiYoung Kim, who was just named COO, was named interim CEO of EssenceMediacom USA as well, replacing Jill Kelly, who will take a synergy role within the media agency network.
  • Stagwell acquired WNP (What’s Next Partners), a French digital brand and marketing consultancy specializing in data-powered strategies, integrated communications and creative content. WNP will be housed in Stagwell’s Anomaly Alliance network.
  • Havas Media Network landed media AOR duties for global pharmaceutical company Viatris covering media strategy, planning, buying, digital performance, search and retail marketing.

Direct quote

“Intellectual property protection is an area where AI changes both everything and nothing – the ‘old’ rules are still the rules, but there are many new ways to bend and break them. Brands should ensure that they are carefully vetting tools for IP compliance and that any tools leveraging generative AI capabilities have clear audit trails. The real ‘nightmare’ scenario … is a key campaign asset generated using AI without sufficient supervision, where that asset infringes third party IP and in so doing, compromises the brand’s integrity.”

— Jim Peiser, chief legal officer at data asset management platform Bynder.

Speed reading

  • I wrote about how audio agency Ad Results Media launched an audio buying offering to increase programmatic ad-buying access to streaming and podcasting.
  • Michael Bürgi covered IPG’s partnership with Adobe to craft and advance generative AI tools across the holding company, and for the software giant to incorporate some of Acxiom’s tools into its products. 
  • Tim Peterson chronicled the discovery of “CycloneBot”, the biggest fraudulent ad scheme in connected TV uncovered by DoubleVerify and Roku. It’s all in his latest Future of TV Briefing.

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