Media Buying Briefing: Planning and activating around influencer marketing has gotten better, but measurement still has a ways to go


This Media Buying Briefing covers the latest in agency news and media buying for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Monday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

The embrace of social influencers by the major platforms, from Facebook and Instagram to newcomers like TikTok, has created a cottage industry — with a capital C.

That’s because capital from brands and marketers continues to pour into the relatively nascent medium — eMarketer in January put out a report stating that three out of four marketers spend dollars on influencer marketing, totaling some $4.14 billion this year.

The market is growing thanks in large part to the increased sophistication in tools to help match the right influencer with the right brand, alongside improved activation elements that inch brand-related efforts closer to the bottom of the purchasing funnel. But post-campaign evaluation and tying in to attribution remains murkier than influencer marketing’s proponents would like. 

The field “is growing like wildfire — everybody’s curious about it, and wants to spend more,” said Monika Ratner, vp of content marketing and business development at Blue Hour Studios, a unit of Horizon Media. “But the main piece of feedback we hear that’s holding our brands back, is they don’t understand what it’s doing for their business, which is a completely fair question for them to ask and our job to answer.” 

Megan Pagliuca, chief activation officer at Omnicom Media Group, said advancements have been most notable in data-driven planning — the selection of influencers — as well as the activation of multiple influencers at scale. “You can treat influencer marketing like a media channel rather than a one-off PR initiative,” said Pagliuca. “There’s this balance of being able to do it at scale while being able to still have bespoke work.”

What’s helped the industry, while making it much more crowded, is the explosion of influencer networks and the companies that help evaluate influencers, from veteran firms like CreatorIQ to Open Influence, which just three weeks ago launched a new tool called GoPrism. 

Open Influence’s CEO Eric Dahan said GoPrism’s database of more than 1 million influencers, analyzes each of their posts, runs image recognition and text analysis, maps against audience engagement, looks for anomalous activity from users, adds demographic information of their audiences and employs fraud indicators and other brand-safety tools. 

“We’re trying to create a taxonomy of influence,” said Dahan. “A lot of media buyers just want to make sure they’re benchmarking against a cohort and not underspending or overspending, especially if the rest of the industry tried some tactic and decided not to go with it.”

“Over the last 12-18 months, more media agencies are coming to us saying, ‘Hey, we want to have the capability to work with influencers,’” added Mike Balducci, head of new business and commercialization at CreatorIQ. “They’re increasingly being asked by their clients to deliver services and capabilities there. And once you start working with more than one client and more than a few influencers, you really need a platform to support that.”

Complicating matters is the growing desire by the social platforms to get a bigger piece of the revenue action with influencers, by forcing them to use only that platform’s commerce offering — but that complication is its own blessing and curse. On the one hand, “the more we can make it easy for the consumer to just press buy or go directly to Amazon, the more likely you’re going to get a return on your investment,” said Renee Vafa, director of social strategy at IPG’s Reprise agency. “I think it’s a positive.” 

On the cursed side, Pagliuca contends that there’s a blurring of lines between paid social and paid influencer work, which has led to influencer networks trying to represent paid social results as earned and paid results. “When you have your paid social taken over by an influencer network, that leads to duplication and ineffectiveness and waste of your overall paid social budget,” she argued.

“Smarter companies will ask for influencer click-through-rates, comments, engagement percentages etc.,” said Ossiana Tepfenhart, an influencer specialist with business consultant SavvySME. “The more clicks your influencer can get, or the more affiliate code uses, the clearer your ROI is going to be.”

Social agency Modifly also has adapted its approach thanks to changing priorities among influencers. “We’ve pivoted our clients to work with influencer partners more as content creators and less on content distribution,” said Elijah Schneider, Modifly’s founder and CEO. “We have our brands focus on how they utilize the content within their paid media, website and owned media activities. By doing this, it creates a similar impact that we used to see from influencer marketing and incorporates much more social focused content into the paid media mix.”

One media agency source said one solution to the post-campaign measurement conundrum is to get the social platforms to involve more clean-room technology.

“It opens up the ability for everyone to do better influencer measurement over time,” said the exec. “You really want to see if the individual saw the ad, and the only ones that have that data are the Snapchats, the TikToks or Instagrams. We want to solve that with them — push the data into those clean rooms so we can get to better influencer measurement over time.”

Color by numbers

According to GroupM’s global president of business intelligence Brian Wieser, what was once a red-hot e-commerce world is actually cooling down, perhaps faster than expected. On an annual and unadjusted basis, U.S. e-commerce grew by 14 percent in 2021 to $871 billion, representing 15 percent of total equivalent retail activity.  Though it’s a similar rate of growth relative to 2018 and 2019, it fell below 2020’s 32 percent rate of expansion, and it’s a slower pace than total retail’s growth of a “remarkable” 18 percent in the year, wrote Wieser in a report issued last week. “Put differently, e-commerce decelerated in ‘real’ inflation-adjusted terms and lost some share as consumers re-emphasized physical store purchases during 2021.”

Takeoff & landing

  • OMG’s Hearts & Science won media AOR duties for Reynolds Consumer Products and Hefty out of Chicago. Havas Chicago was the incumbent but didn’t defend the business. 
  • Tinuiti was named the first advertising partner for social platform Reddit, giving Tinuiti’s clients early access to Reddit ad inventory and tools, including research and Reddit’s KarmaLab. 
  • In personnel moves, Havas Media Group elevated Greg James from global chief strategy officer to global chief transformation officer, leading a strategic development & client experience team … Mediacom tapped Ryan Shaw to lead its Chicago office, moving him over from a leadership position with Mediacom’s Walgreens team The Pharm … and Publicis Health named Larry Mickelberg as its first chief commercial officer; he had most recently served as group president at Real Chemistry. 

Direct quote

“One of the main challenges for any brand aiming for a metaverse presence is the quality of the experience — because best practices for designing metaverse experiences are still few and far between, and are not widely understood; so, companies will have to significantly up-level their skills and processes to succeed. Many metaverse advocates equate it with Web3 even though they are not the same thing and don’t depend on each other; but brands that learn how to design experiences that tap the power of both will lead.” 

— David Truog, vp and principal analyst at Forrester, discussing the metaverse’s potential for brands.

Speed reading

More in Media

NewFronts Briefing: Samsung, Condé Nast, Roku focus presentations on new ad formats and category-specific inventory

Day two of IAB’s NewFronts featured presentations from Samsung, Condé Nast and Roku, highlighting new partnerships, ad formats and inventory, as well as new AI capabilities.

The Athletic to raise ad prices as it paces to hit 3 million newsletter subscribers

The New York Times’ sports site The Athletic is about to hit 3 million total newsletter subscribers. It plans to raise ad prices as as a result of this nearly 20% year over year increase.

NewFronts Briefing: Google, Vizio and news publishers pitch marketers with new ad offerings and range of content categories

Day one of the 2024 IAB NewFronts featured presentations from Google and Vizio, as well as a spotlight on news publishers.