How influencer marketing can survive the Badshah fake followers scam

Experts comment on the rise of the nefarious scam rocking the influencer marketing industry and how to bring in an authentic approach on digital media platforms

e4m by Noel Dsouza
Published: Aug 13, 2020 8:05 AM  | 6 min read
Fake Followers and Influencer Marketing

Followers of an Influencer’s social media page garner attention from brands for digital campaigns --  higher the count higher the reach. Brands know that the metrics they seek vis-a-vis digital campaigns can only be fulfilled by those with a massive follower count -- a fact that influencers are well aware of.

But often in an effort to catch the brands' attention, many resort to unfair means and pay platforms to make their follower count look appealing. This sums up the recent debacle with the musician Badshah who was accused and later questioned by the Mumbai Cyber Crime branch. It has been suspected that the Punjabi rapper had paid a company Rs 72 lakh in exchange for 72 million fake views on his music video ‘Paagal’ released in 2019. This raises the question of whether he will be trusted by brands in the future for brand endorsements and his existing deals. It also puts the companies that handle these celebrities and influencers under scrutiny.

Not just Badshah, even B’Town celebrities like Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra were accused of having more than 40% fake followers according to the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance (ICMP) and are among 10 celebrities who have the highest number of ‘bots’ on Instagram. Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres ranks first on that list with about 58% of fake Instagram followers.

The sequence of events was triggered by singer Bhumi Trivedi who reported that someone has created a fake account of hers on Instagram. The CIU unit of Mumbai then arrested a Kurla resident and later Kashif Mansoor, who runs a portal that provided fake followers, views, and likes.

Influencer Marketing has a personalized approach when it comes to promoting a brand or service that resonates with the influencers' persona as consumers are more likely to find them reliable. But with the issue of fake followers in the limelight, brands need to differentiate followers from the ‘Faux Followers’ on Social Media and reassure credibility when it comes to campaigns, especially in the pandemic where influencer marketing is at it its prime.

e4m spoke to Influencer Marketing experts about their perspective on fake followers on social media and how to develop a more authentic approach on social media platforms.

Fake Followers in the Digital Marketplace
Manesh Swamy, VP-Creative, Logicserve Digital says, “I think the celebrities have gone overboard and done it for that extra fame or that one specific record. It’s difficult to figure out how it makes any difference or adds value to consumers or anyone else's life. Having fake followers in a way means they have cheated on the genuine followers, and their tall influence claim falls flat.”

Rajni Daswani, Director - Brand Experience & Employee Engagement sharing her perspective asserts, “The fake followers and engagement is an old problem that is back in the news because of Badshah’s fan following. All social platforms struggle with this and continue to build algorithms to purge this as far as possible.”

Varsha Jeetendra Kunhody, Influencer Marketing Specialist, The Mavericks remarked, “The Influencer Marketing industry has been seeing fake followers in the last few years and for agencies like us who have dedicated team handling influencers, it comes as no surprise, as we see such profiles daily. Given the current pandemic times, there has been a close to 15% rise on screen time and this has caused influencer marketing to boom despite COVID too. Individuals with spending power are taking up recommendations and reviews that are on social media, before making a purchase. Influencer Marketing is one such industry that is purely surviving because of trust. When a follower trusts and looks up to an influencer, he/she takes up the influencer's recommendation, believes the reviews being posted are unbiased, and bases their purchase decision on it. If you remove the trust element from this equation, it will take less than a couple of seconds for a follower to unfollow the influencer.”

Enhancing Authenticity
Daswani remarked, “As an agency that has been leveraging influencer marketing for our brands since 2014, we’ve always paid more focus on the type of engagement an influencer can get us over the follower’s metrics. Having a high follower count is a vanity metric, which is used for superficial judging. When a brand is investing heavily in influencer marketing, the focus should be more on how much value the influencer can bring on board through actually connecting with their followers, who can drive more shares and spark authentic conversations. There are multiple tools available online to check the authenticity of followers and it’s best to use more data-driven methods to plan your influencer marketing campaign than just looking at the follower count.”

Viraj Sheth, Co-founder, and CEO, Monk Entertainment commented, “As an organization, we've always been a champion of ensuring that brands work with creators who hold actual influence, something that cannot be gauged just by the number of followers one has. Brands have become smarter over time and are using various methods to understand the authenticity of a creator. One of the quickest ways to check the real influence of a creator is to check their comment sections. If they're genuine creators, you will see the audiences interacting with them very personally in the comment section instead of just using emojis or one-word compliments.”

Logicserve Digital’s Swamy shared, “We definitely shouldn’t assume that this is how every influencer works, or this is the norm. In the past four months, Influencer marketing has seen steady growth, and I’m sure it has happened because the celebrity or the influencer could connect and engage with their real audiences. Diljit Dosanjh, Chef Ranveer Brar, Bhuvan Bam, Virat Kohli, Kusha Kapila, etc. are great examples of how the right Influencers look like and how they truly connect with their followers. As of now, we don’t have any set laws to track or control this kind of activity. Till the time we get a proper law or a cyber act, I guess, as a marketer and brand custodian, we have to be very cautious and use a fine comb to select the next big star for our influencer campaigns.”

Kunhody concluded saying, “Now with celebrities in the acting and music industry being accused of fake followers, it does bring up the question of the authenticity, of course, but also questions the worth of such influencers. We have had influencers and celebrities quoting lakhs for one Instagram story and post. Knowing the basics of influencer marketing, as a mandatory routine, we do a thorough scan of influencer profiles, check their engagement, like follower ratio before deciding to collaborate. However, there are authentic influencers out there who spend hours every day striving to curate intriguing content. While the fake follower’s scam is bound to get brands to be more cautious about influencer marketing, the need of the hour is a more regulated approach by Instagram. Fake followers, likes, comments, etc need to be banned and profiles who indulge in these activities should be blocked for a certain period at least."

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Hoop Entertainment signs multi-show deal with Audible

Hoop Entertainment will produce 70 hours of original, multi-character, audio series content that will be exclusively distributed on Audible

By exchange4media Staff | Mar 21, 2023 11:32 AM   |   1 min read

Hoop

Audible, a creator and provider of premium audio storytelling, has signed an exclusive deal for 10-audio dramas with Nikhil Mirchandani’s Hoop Entertainment.

Hoop Entertainment will produce 70 hours of original, multi-character, audio series content, across mythology, drama, history, true crime and horror genres, creating a “theatre of the mind” experience that will be exclusively distributed on Audible.

The 10 new shows produced by Hoop will be available free for all listeners, exclusively on Audible.

Shailesh Sawlani, VP and Country Manager for India at Audible, said, "We are incredibly excited to collaborate with Hoop Entertainment to bring captivating content to all listeners for free on Audible. We are constantly seeking new and innovative ways to provide our listeners with best-in-class content, and Hoop Entertainment's expertise in producing audio dramas across a variety of genres perfectly aligns with our vision. We are confident our shared passion for storytelling will help us to continue to deliver an immersive experience for our listeners."

Nikhil Mirchandani, Founder, Hoop Entertainment, said, “We're thrilled at the opportunity to produce a multitude of audio series across genres for Audible. The stories, narrative, performances, and sound design will create a ‘theatre-of-the-mind’ experience. Audio is the next entertainment frontier, and our audiences are ready for complex storytelling and personalized audio experiences. We thank Audible for trusting & enabling us to explore this medium to the fullest.”

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Amazon to ‘eliminate’ 9,000 more employees

The layoffs will be done in AWS, PXT, Advertising and Twitch, CEO Andy Jassy has said in a blog post

By exchange4media Staff | Mar 21, 2023 9:02 AM   |   1 min read

Amazon

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy has said that the company needs to eliminate about 9,000 more positions from AWS, PXT, Advertising and Twitch.

He made the announcement via a blog post.

The company has concluded its second phase of the operating plan, Jassy said.

"This was a difficult decision, but one that we think is best for the company long term," he wrote in the post.

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'Brands should adapt to the dynamic media landscape and GenZ's changing habits'

Aditi Mishra, CEO, Lodestar UM, and Kulanath Kaushik from the agency's strategy team discuss the ever-evolving media behaviour of the youth and what brands can make the most out of it

By exchange4media Staff | Mar 21, 2023 9:00 AM   |   2 min read

Generational Zeitgiest e4m & Lodestar UM podcast

e4m has collaborated with Lodestar UM, one of India’s leading media agencies and a part of the Mediabrands India network, to create “Generational Zeitgeist” – a six-part Podcast Series that peeks into the Indian Gen Zers’ mindset.

Based on multiple sources of learning including a three-part pan-India study with 1100+ GenZ respondents, Generational Zeitgeist covers a wide range of topics.

Each episode is a conversation between Aditi Mishra, CEO, Lodestar UM, and Kulanath Kaushik, one of the contributors to the study from Lodestar UM’s strategy team.

About the fourth episode

Aditi Mishra and Kulanath Kaushik discuss how has GenZ's media behaviour has changed over time.

“In today's digitally empowered media world, there is an endless choice of content and media, and the influx of influencers on social and video platforms has made it more democratic. Viewers have more power, and platforms like Discord and Patreon have harnessed the power of community,” said Mishra.

She added, “With so much content, choice, and engagement, time spent by GenZ audiences has increased. However, with this fragmentation, brands need to adapt to the dynamic media landscape and GenZ's changing habits.”

Technology has accelerated the speed of change, with innovative developments emerging every six months, such as the recent buzz around ChatGPT, Mishra opined. 

The two discussed 'Growth of Modern Brands' amongst the GenZ and how it is important for Brands to 'Enable Experiences', to have 'Dynamism & Agility', be 'Authentic & Transparent' and get the Brand's 'Core Promise Right'.

“The GenZs value authenticity and purpose-driven brands that deliver on their core promise, enabling them to sail through tough times. Brands that are adaptable, agile, and keep pace with the dynamic and fast-moving GenZs can create a pull,” says Mishra.

She further noted, “The pandemic presented an excellent opportunity for brands to demonstrate agility by pivoting to new services, as exemplified by Zomato/Swiggy's entry into grocery delivery and Amazon Prime Video's introduction of Watch Party. Thus, brands should empower GenZs to be part of their progression by being dynamic and agile.”

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AI is the biggest emerging trend in SAAS: Vivek Bhargava, ProfitWheel

The Co-founder of ProfitWheel Bhargava discusses how AI and Generative AI have emerged as big game changers in the consumer experience and marketing segment

By Kanchan Srivastava | Mar 21, 2023 8:40 AM   |   2 min read

Vivek Bhargava

After working in digital marketing for over two decades, Vivek Bhargava, head of Dentsu Performance Group, moved on to the software space with his new venture ProfitWheel in 2021. 

ProfitWheel is a global consumer intelligence SaaS start-up, co-founded by Bhargava, Gautam Mehra and Aman Khanna. 

For Bhargava, making such switches is nothing new. He himself comes from a family that’s in the business of selling the musical instrument sitar. He decided to do something new and set up a digital marketing company in 1997, at a time when most people neither had the internet nor had heard of digital marketing. 

In less than two years’ time, ProfitWheel bagged several large enterprises as clients, including Fortune 500 companies and has been helping them take decisions on media buying, content creation, creative strategy, influencer selection, etcetera, globally with the help of actionable insights on their first-party data. 

In an interview with exchange4media, Bhargava shares his learnings from his early entrepreneurship days and experiences he gained at dentsu group and how it all helped him get quick success at the new venture. 

Calling Artificial Intelligence (AI) the “biggest emerging trend in SAAS,” Bhargava highlighted how it is the core of his platform that taps into a multi-modal AI integrated with ChatGPT, Bard and Cohere among others. “Generative AI is re-setting the entire world. With it, we have mapped 1.2 million interests of Facebook to 200,000 categories on YouTube further to 1,20,000 interests on Programmatic to further 17,000 interests on TikTok and 600 on Snap.”

He added, “We have also mapped audiences across the globe, so those with interested in cricket in India will be interested in formula one in the UAE, while a similar psychographic audience will have interest in ice hockey in Canada and soccer in the UK.”

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Marketers need to build effective, full-funnel advertising propositions: Taranjeet Singh

The Managing Director, South APAC, at Criteo talks to e4m about the company’s growth from a single solution company to a multi-product commerce media platform  

By Shantanu David | Mar 21, 2023 8:35 AM   |   3 min read

Taranjeet

While it’s become almost trite to say that India’s digital landscape is growing by leaps and bounds, the daily uptick in consumer numbers is what is keeping brands, agencies, analysts and sundry excited about the topic.

And one of the key driving forces of this growth is the increasing ease of access to video.

In India, the potential of video advertising is tremendous, with a predicted 512 million viewers by 2025, even as other reports pitch for even larger numbers.

Keeping pace with the evolving market has been vital to advertising brands across the spectrum. Remarking on the same, Taranjeet Singh, Managing Director, South APAC at Criteo, points out that it has evolved from being a single solution company to a multi-product commerce media platform.

According to a recent report by Redsteer Strategy Consultants, Indians spend an enormous amount of time on their smartphones, with an average of 7.3 hours per day spent on online messaging, social media, YouTube streaming, OTT content, and short-form video.

With more time spent online combined with the increased bandwidth and low latency provided by 5G, this combination of factors further enables businesses to create real-time communication and provide personalized customer support by delivering rich media experiences.

And Singh says that as more and more Indians turn to digital channels for their shopping needs and entertainment, it is crucial for brands and retailers to have a strong presence in various channels, including video and retail websites.

This means it is essential for marketers to build effective, full-funnel advertising propositions that enable them to engage with existing and potential customers at every shoppable moment and become part of the consumer's journey to build a presence, and achieve meaningful commerce goals.

Singh asserts that Criteo is committed to helping brands take advantage of this trend towards direct video advertising through their video advertising solution, which offers access to over 600 premium video publishers and unique audience metrics that can drive measurable outcomes for brands.

“Our combined video advertising and performance solutions cover multiple touch points and leverage audience-first ad solutions, including in-stream and out-stream video, mobile app, web traffic, consideration, and retargeting,” he says, adding that by partnering with Criteo, brands can increase their awareness, drive traffic, and optimize their sales and marketing goals.

“Additionally, our recent acquisition of Brandcrush, an Australia-based company whose platform enables the buying and selling of omnichannel retail media, including offline media channels, allows Criteo to provide a holistic omnichannel monetization solution for retailers,” he says.

Given the growing pivot towards Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Singh says his company’s core technology has always been the Criteo AI Engine.

“Criteo’s advanced AI algorithms analyse data in real-time from the Criteo Shopper Graph, with insights from 750 million daily active users, and 4 billion product SKUs and 3,500 product categories,” he says, concluding, as this engine learns from real shopper behaviours, it continuously adapts to brands campaign objectives and powers predictive bidding, product recommendations, dynamic creative optimization (DCO+), and look alike finders.

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Amazon to buy MX Player?

Sources claim that the tech giant is in advanced talks with Times Internet to buy the latter's OTT platform

By exchange4media Staff | Mar 20, 2023 11:54 AM   |   2 min read

amazon

Amazon is believed to be in advanced talks to acquire Times Internet-owned OTT platform MX Player, sources have told exchange4media.

In 2018, Times Internet surprised the world by acquiring MX Player for an estimated sum of $140 million or Rs 1,000 crore then.  

The move was considered a bold move by the Times group, especially since the company’s previous OTT venture — BoxTV.com — had shut down in 2016 only, after four years of existence. 

Four years down the line,  Times Internet, the digital arm of media conglomerate Times Group, has decided to sell MX Player, one of the largest OTT platforms in India.

“Amazon is set to acquire MX Player to expand its entertainment business in one of largest consumer markets in the world. The deal will be closed soon”, sources privy to the matter said. 

The US-based giant has reportedly roped in a leading consulting firm for due diligence over the deal. 

“The deal size is roughly $100 million, $40 million less than what Times Internet invested in Mx Player at the time of acquisition,” sources claimed. 

e4m can’t independently verify the claims. 

Times Internet did not respond to a questionnaire sent to them in this regard early this week despite repeated requests. “We have no comments to offer,” the group representatives told e4m. Amazon's response is awaited.

If the deal really goes through, then Amazon Prime Video is set to grow four times bigger in terms of consumer acquisition. Amazon has an estimated 28 million users in India while MX Player has nearly 78 million users. 

This high-profile deal has the potential to make India’s OTT war intense, especially since the Reliance group has thrown its hat in the game. Viacom18 has played a big gambit by streaming IPL for free over JioCinema for users across all telecom networks in a bid to acquire a maximum number of users, even as it has shelled out Rs 24,000 crore to acquire IPL’s digital media rights for five years. 

Incidentally, MX Player was ranked as the 3rd Most Downloaded OTT App Globally in 2022, in the State of Mobile 2023 report by Data.ai. In India, MX Player was the most downloaded app surpassing Hotstar, Zee 5, Jio TV and Jio Cinema.

MX Player launched as a video player on 18 July 2011 in Korea. In 2019, it was relaunched as an OTT platform with original programming.

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GPT-4: What the new AI tool can do for brands & marketers

In today’s e4m TechTalk, we explore the universe of GPT-4 and speak to experts how brands can make the best use of this new version

By Nilanjana Basu | Mar 20, 2023 8:32 AM   |   6 min read

techtalk

Open AI, the San Francisco-based company which has revolutionized the world of artificial intelligence with its AI-powered chatbot product, has now launched the latest iteration model of its GPT series, GPT-4. This opens a world full of new features for brands to use for innovative marketing and leverage it for other growth strategies. Experts from the tech and business field say GPT-4 can help in brand building, but surely with caution.

GPT-4 brings in newer features, such as being able to do creative and technical writing tasks, accepting images as inputs and generating captions, classifications, and analyses and handling long form content creation ranging over 25,000 words of text.

This version has already been incorporated by a bunch of companies including Duolingo for its new subscription-based platform called Duolingo Max, matchmaking application Keeper, virtual assistance app for the visually impaired called Be My Eyes and edu-tech firm Khan Academy. Microsoft’s Bing also confirmed the usage of GPT-4. The number of companies around the world that are partnering with Open AI for GPT-4 is continuously growing.

So, what is making brands jump on the bandwagon?

How can brands use GPT-4?

Niraj Ruparel, Head of Mobile & Emerging Tech - GroupM India Emerging Tech Lead - WPP India, shares, “As a language model, ChatGPT-4 could be used for a wide range of natural language processing tasks, such as text completion, translation, summarization, and question-answering. It could also be used in chatbots, virtual assistants, and other conversational AI applications to provide more accurate and natural responses to user queries.”

Kiran Capoor, Head of Technology of Schbang, says GPT-4 can be a good tool to help brands personalize and target their audience better. "GPT-4 can be used by brands to analyze and understand customer preferences and trends, creating content that resonates with the target audience, ultimately driving more traffic and engagement. Alternatively, if you run an e-commerce business, you could leverage GPT-4 to improve customer experience and satisfaction by analyzing customer feedback and reviews, identifying common issues and pain points that customers face when interacting with the business. AI can be used in marketing to provide personalized user experiences, product recommendations based on a user's browsing history, conversational chatbots, predictive marketing analytics, "try-before-you-buy" models, and more."

Karan Taurani of Elara Capital says it’s still early days for marketers to use GPT-4, but once it kicks off, it should see a lot of ad spends. “I think it's still some time that they get into the advertising segment or the advertisement monetization model. I think this is more a user-led thing. If we look at social media also, initially, they started off with no ads, but then introduced ads five to six years later. So, the point is that I think it's very early days to say in terms of how brands will leverage features of GPT-4 to make best use of it. But yeah, once the traffic of this kind of app increases, you will see advertising dollars flowing on them.”

Ashray Malhotra, CEO and co-founder of Rephrase.ai believes the broader knowledge base of GPT-4 can be a game changer in customer service and content creation. “Brands can leverage the features of GPT-4 to create engaging and personalized content for their customers, such as product descriptions, reviews, ads, social media posts, emails, chatbots and more. GPT-4 has a broader general knowledge and deeper understanding of various domains than previous models, which means it can generate more relevant and accurate content for different audiences and contexts. GPT-4 is also multilingual and can answer multiple-choice questions with high accuracy across 26 languages, which opens up new possibilities for global marketing and customer service.”

Hareesh Tibrewala, joint CEO Mirum India, says, "Brands can use it for generating campaign ideas as well as the actual content for the campaigns. Right now simple things like generating multiple subject lines keeping best practices in mind for a email campaign or key word stuffed article for SEO purposes to more complex things like writing video scripts keeping in mind specific brand tonality and requirements. I think it has multiple possible applications. "

Industries which can benefit the most from GPT-4
Ashray Malhotra says that any industry that relies on communication and creativity can benefit from this AI tool. “For example, e-commerce, media, entertainment, education, healthcare, finance and more. GPT-4 can help these industries create more engaging and personalized experiences for their customers, as well as streamline their workflows and reduce costs.”

Karan Taurani sees the consumer industry as a big market for GPT-4. “I think in terms of industry, if you look at majorly in terms of AI, a lot of the consumer industries will actually see a big boost. Consumer traditional companies like Auto, FMCG, these are verticals which are very large in terms of size and scale.”

Treading steadily but cautiously towards AI
Experts believe AI should be a go to for every brand but they need to use it responsibly.

Niraj Ruparel gives examples of how his team has made a bunch of successful uses of AI but he says marketers and brands need to be aware of Responsible AI. “My teams have built multiple solves for brands using the power of AI. WPP teams helped create Young Sachin, Bret Lee Thumbs up Stumpcam wicket se cricket dekho, SRK not just a Cadbury ad among other things. While industry standards in this area are still maturing, there is widespread recognition that product architecture and development should be based on appropriate ethics. Responsible AI considers the technology’s impact not only on users but on the broader world, ensuring that its usage is fair and responsible.”

Ashray Malhotra, who works on AI on a regular basis, says brands need to be mindful of the way they are using it. “I think brands need to look at new AI features as opportunities to innovate and differentiate themselves from their competitors. AI is not a threat but a partner that can help brands achieve their goals faster and better. However, brands also need to be mindful of the ethical and social implications of using AI tools like GPT-4. They need to ensure that they use them responsibly and transparently, respecting the privacy and preferences of their customers.”

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