Brands veering towards influencer marketing in times of COVID-19

Industry experts say while influencer partnerships are on the rise, brands are conscious that they cannot come across as ‘pushy’ and are trying to ensure the focus remains on sensitive messaging

e4m by Shikha Paliwal
Updated: Mar 19, 2020 12:30 PM
Influencer Marketing

These are uncertain times for the business community and the advertising and marketing industry too is feeling the pinch. COVID-19 has driven everyone indoors and industry bodies like the Association of Advertising Producers (ASAP), FWICE, IMPPA, WIPFA, IFTPC & IFTDA have put shoots on hold between till March 31.

With brands cancelling on-ground promotions and events, and campaigns getting pushed back, marketing communication, especially for new product launches, is bound to be hit. However, this crisis is now prompting brands to move their communication to the digital world through the influencer marketing route.

Rohit Raj, Business Partner and Manager for one of India’s top content creator Bhuvan Bam, confirms this. “This is exactly what we are going through. A surge of brands to partner is visible. Bhuvan’s going to be launching a premium cellphone digitally in the coming weeks. People are home and they have enough time to explore content and be on social media platforms. It makes maximum sense for brands to engage with audiences through digital creators.”

With ‘work from home’ becoming the norm for most across India, online activity is bound to rise. In fact, it already has, video streaming platforms have confirmed that they are seeing a spike in consumption, shopping has shifted online and social media too is witnessing high usage. This is where the influencers step in. Brands are engaging with them to communicate their message to consumers who are home-bound. Interestingly, industry experts share that while brand-influencer partnerships are on the rise, most brands are conscious of the fact that they cannot come across as ‘pushy’ in times of crisis. Instead, they are trying to ensure that the focus remains on sensitive messaging even through influencers.

Explains Pranay Swarup, CEO & Founder, Chtrbox.com, an influencer marketing platform, "We've seen a spike in urgent incoming influencer marketing briefs at Chtrbox, not just because of restrictions on production-shoots but also because of cancelled physical launch events/BTL activations, and limited impact of anything Outdoor right now. Brands are looking to connect with consumers in meaningful ways, and some even to announce COVID-19 related awareness communications."

Adds Julie Kriegshaber, COO, Chtrbox.com, "In the past week, our rate of incoming influencer marketing briefs has easily doubled. Although, our teams across Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore have been working from home, we've been pretty busy in helping our partners plan digital campaigns with influencers."

Digital agencies that work with brands to create social media campaigns agree that in the absence of full scale campaigns, influencer marketing is perhaps an effective marketing tool, especially since the engagement levels on social media are at its peak. Elaborates Harikrishnan Pillai, Co-Founder & CEO, TheSmallBigIdea, “Quite a lot of influencers create content in a real environment and their followers have built an affinity to consuming their content in that space. In these times when content shoots are cancelled, influencer-driven content in their native environment is an easy and an effective way to build messaging. Also in times of a near lockdown, social media content consumption is likely to go high and hence brands will look at being more visible in the user timelines.”

“Also, in these times brands and agencies are looking at quick creative solutions to fill gaps, which influencers with their strong narratives but low production involvements are able to turn around,” he further said.

Every brand is trying to be friends with the concept of self-quarantine and are not promoting activities that pose a threat to the same, says Aakriti Sinha, Social Media National Head-Isobar. “With malls, restaurants, spas, movie halls and other public places or public gatherings being shut down, influencers are doing the heavy-weightlifting for brands to stay relevant. People don’t want to know how your brand is better than the other during this time. They have crossed the line of TMI (too much information) and are consuming more content than ever. Sharing is at an all-time high, everybody wants to be the first responder, first to share and first to self-educate,” says Sinha.

By pointing out how purposeful marketing is being used through influencers, Sinha lays out some examples like the WHO tie-up with #DudeWithASign which was a success in raising awareness about coronavirus. The #HandWash challenge is being promoted by celebrities alike and is bringing visibility for hand wash liquid brands. “TikTok influencers are shining through this period by doing exactly what’s required – keeping it light. No panic, no anxiety… just promotion of brands, songs, services through entertaining content,” she added.

For the longest time in India, the influencer marketing sector was largely an unorganised one. In the initial years most of what was done in terms of brand collaborations was an outcome of trial and error. Increasingly though with the potential of the ‘word of mouth’ that the influencer brings to the table, many mainstream advertising agencies too can be seen venturing into the influencer marketing space. The phenomenal rise of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat and Twitter has given birth to a new breed of powerful digital celebrities across in India too. Influencer marketing is no longer based on frivolous metrics like number of comments and likes. It now means serious business and brands are clear who they would want to collaborate with.

Ashutosh Harbola, CEO and Co-founder, Buzzoka, said there is an increase in demand for influencer marketing even at a time when most of the advertising numbers are going down. “The influencer bucket which is driven by experiential metaphors is still coming handy for brands as people are more active on social circuits in the current time frame. So brands are seeing it as an opportunity to cater to a more involved audience at this time.”

Sharing supporting figures, Harbola said there has been a 25-30% increase in the current scenario and we see these numbers going up further in the next 15-20 days.

The Influencer Marketing Report published earlier this year by Buzzoka, an Influencer Marketing Company, highlighted that 80% of brands are planning to spend more on influencer marketing in 2020 and this was because of the high business impact of their past campaigns. The report also states that, as per the brand custodians, the top three Influencer Marketing platforms this year will be Instagram (94%), TikTok (52%) and YouTube (52%).

However, in these sombre times, these influencers too will be pushed to create content within limited means, while being confined to their homes and with an added sense of responsibility. Kriegshaber of Chtrbox.com believes that they already are, “Influencers and brands are however being much more cautious with their content during this time to ensure it doesn't strike a wrong tone, and that it's empathic with all the people going through major COVID-19 related hardships. We believe that creating a positive influence is important, and it's a great time for brands to show their heart and extend the right services and communication to consumers.”

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