With the creator economy continuing to boom every year, brands are increasingly recognising the reach of influencers and the impact they can have on campaign success. As a marketing and advertising channel, we have started to transition away from tapping popular celebrities and A-list personalities, to seek out content creators that have built successful profiles on social media thanks to their content and fanbase. The overarching question still remains: how do brands know which influencers to tap, and which trends should they get into?

To answer this and further explain the upcoming trends within the influencer marketing industry, industry leaders Ruben Ahmed, director of marketing for HP Australia & New Zealand; Isabel Falco, chief digital and marketing officer of L’Oréal Philippines; Jonathan Gerard, head of production of VaynerMedia Asia Pacific; and Aaron Brooks, co-founder and president of Vamp–recently sat down for a panel discussion as part of the What’s NEXT 2023: Influencer Marketing in APAC webinar–to talk about the trends and top tips for brands and agencies.

Influencers are typically considered to be ‘key opinion leaders’ (KOLs), an umbrella term frequently used in the marketing industry. However, it is worth noting that the term ‘KOL’ among present-day influencers is referenced in a much broader context. KOLs may still be most commonly associated with paid partnerships, but they are the creatives and content creators who also promote their work organically to their follower audiences.

This was a point L’Oreal Philippines’ chief digital officer Isabel Falco expressed, who said that influencer marketing has been a key objective for the company. She acknowledges the fact that with the booming creator economy, social media users are now looking at KOLs to learn more about brands and what they should try out next. KOLs have become an influential voice in helping brands retain loyalty.

“The balance has tipped – creators have the power, and they are not “beholden” to brands anymore. Therefore, brands need to attract, vs “demand from” our KOLs & creators; we need to give them a reason to want to partner with us,” she stated.

She also notes the fact there is a greater need for brands to team up with micro- and nano-influencers: those that don’t have the biggest number of followers, but have built a close community thanks to the content they share.

“We need more micros and nanos as well, especially as we see that the “lower” tiers typically have higher engagement rates, as they have a more dedicated following. For this level of scale, we definitely need the right agency partners to also operationalize,” she says.

This is a view supported by insights from VaynerMedia’s Jonathan Gerard, who notes that with the massive shift between influencers and brands nowadays, brands should stop asking influencers to make ads, but rather engage with them as content creator partners.

“They won’t stay and consume ads, so optimising for a 3-second view means you’re creating the wrong thing. Create the right thing and you’ll get much more attention. There is so much appetite for content and consumption is higher than ever,” he explained.

He also adds that brands need to also loosen the reins they put on creator partners and give them more creative freedom to execute the campaign, aside from the mandatory elements of a traditional ad campaign.

This was later reinforced by statements from HP’s Ruben Ahmed, who shared insights related to their recent campaign with local artist Mulga to produce original artwork to promote their Instant Ink subscription and printers. For him, they had a clear objective in combining KOLs and some growth marketing tactics in tandem, with some paid marketing to drive both organic and paid reach.

“Understanding the role of social for your brand is critical – understanding how your audience uses the particular social platform is the key to unlock engagement, because it shapes the direction in a very different way to just running your typical advertising on a social platform,” he said.

Ahmed also noted that brands need to ask themselves if they need an influencer to be able to create online reach, or if they need someone to help cut through by making a ‘splash’.

“Social is quick and short-lived, so we designed for this – lots of creative variations, combinations of videos, images, carousels, polls, competitions were put into a plan together with our media team and set up in the platform so that we could quickly pivot behind what was working or not,” he concluded.

Learn about other insights from the influencer marketing industry, including strategies for storytelling and raising awareness through social media campaigns, by checking out the full on-demand webinar here.

Malaysia – Come September, the Subway brand in Southeast Asia surprised audiences with a unique take on its marketing campaign – that is, a promotional messaging that targets marketing itself: “More meat, less marketing.”

The campaign was launched in the region-bound countries such as Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines, and in Malaysia, the campaign has gained impressive traction within the first month since its launch.

VaynerMedia APAC, the creative brains behind the campaign, shared to MARKETECH APAC, that from the campaign’s release until November to date, digital posts have reached a 7% average engagement rate.

The star of the campaign – Subway’s new Meat Stack – is its sub, packed with chicken strips, tender chicken slices, pepperoni, smokey salami, and fresh veggies. The campaign’s aim is to drive home the message that in order to give the best-valued fresh sub, Subway spent all its budget on cooking up the new item with very little left for marketing.

Much like the long-running joke of “honest movie titles,” and “honest advertisements,” the campaign pokes at the elephant in the room in the business of marketing, where some brands prefer to build on glamorous branding rather than improve the product itself. 

Subway’s “More meat, less marketing” campaign is a 360 marketing initiative. Digital banners and videos have been rolled out on the different markets’ Subway social media channels. On Subway Malaysia’s Facebook page, banners bearing the hashtags #NoBudgetForMarketing #InsertHashtagHere #NoMoneyForHashtag #NoBudgetForTVC are being posted regularly. 

In an October 12 post, Subway Malaysia published a video with the description, “Meat lovers, rejoice! Marketing folks – look away! ‘Cos we’ve spent all our marketing budget stuffing more meat into our all-new Meat Stack.” The video shows a “behind the scenes” editing of the Meat Stack banner, being created in elementary “PowerPoint’” style. 

Meanwhile, another quirky Facebook post shows an image of the new sub with the copy, “You Win Some (meat), You Lose Some (advertising).”

Another post was also published, similarly shining on the battle between good product and good advertising, with a GIF showing a scoreboard, where the new sub gains a point vs no points for marketing. 

VaynerMedia shared that as of current, the campaign has garnered 310k impressions in Malaysia, with a total of 9k engagement of comments, shares, and reactions. Reshares have also amounted to 695.

Of the concept, VaynerMedia APAC’s Executive Creative Director VJ Anand said, “In the marketing industry, we often joke about creating ads using Microsoft Word, PowerPoint or MS Paint. We took these jokes and made it a reality because it was a fun approach which made sense with a product like the value-for-money Meat Stack. Add to that the current realities of our industry which has been facing year-long budget cuts, and you have a marketing campaign that’s real, relevant, and talkable.”

A number of Malaysians expressed their appreciation for the marketing move, with one commenting on Facebook, “I love this [idea], more for customer, less for advertiser.”

Another also wrote, “So far, Subway has been the only one calling out what it is. Liking the self-depreciation campaign you’re doing,” alongside enthusiastic emojis of a thumbs-up, and clapping hands. 

Aside from socials, the campaign also takes form in point-of-purchase materials and out-of-home bus ads, particularly in Singapore. In the Lion city, the messaging was adapted in the form of half designed ads, with the catchy copy “[Subway] could only afford half an ad.”

VaynerMedia said the campaign is set to run until early January 2021. 

Hang Ee Laine, Subway’s head of marketing for Southeast Asia said, “We are excited to connect with our guests through a fresh, fun, and light-hearted campaign. We created a delicious sub, and wanted to tell a story in a way that would make people smile.”