By Deirdre Kozicki, Senior Media Planner 

It’s no secret that influencers are slowly taking over the marketing world. In 2022, the influencer market was valued at $16.4B, with 72% of all Gen Z and Millennials reporting they follow influencers on social media. A third of Gen Zer’s have admitted to buying something based on an influencer recommendation – a number that keeps climbing with the rising popularity of TikTok (HubSpot). Though influencer marketing is ubiquitous, not every partnership is a success story.  

For example, the cosmetics brand Tarte recently sent 50 lifestyle and beauty influencers (and their plus ones) to Dubai to film travel vlogs featuring their array of makeup products. What was meant to be an enviable luxury trip turned into a social media calamity, with viewers speculating just how much Tarte had spent on the activation. Many called the trip “tone-deaf” in the face of a looming economic recession, causing Tarte hashtags to trend worldwide.

While brand sponsored trips are not a new concept (they have been around since the dawn of YouTube), they are facing criticism from more politically and socially aware audiences, specifically on TikTok. Maureen Kelly, Founder and CEO of Tarte, said her brand has long “prioritized their marketing budget into building relationships with influencers.” While that may be true, brands should still find a way to achieve relevancy without sacrificing good PR.  

Coachella was also recently the center of social media controversy. As the 3-day music festival played out, festival-goers went viral on TikTok for calling out the fact that many influencers were faking their attendance by just going to after parties, dubbing it a “money pit for mostly influencers.” Coachella was originally created for music lovers, but the festival has recently been nicknamed the “Influencer Olympics” given the lack focus on musical performances. TikTok star Alix Earle uploaded 25 Coachella-related videos garnering over 100M views, only one which featured a musical stage.  

However not all brands are missing the mark when it comes to influencer marketing. The fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant, CAVA, partners with creators who have previously expressed their love for the chain by having them design custom menu items. This has allowed CAVA to connect with their audiences in an authentic, exciting way. They have worked with the likes of Emma Chamberlain, NYC based private chef Meredith Hayden, and TikTok recipe creator Nasim Lahbichi. The campaign saw strong organic amplification, with pickup from news publications and thousands of fan reaction videos uploaded to TikTok and YouTube.

For brands to reap the rewards of influencer partnerships and avoid negative backlash, authenticity is key. By taking the time to find the right fit, brands can connect with their audience in an organic-feeling way that cuts through the clutter of online advertising. Brands must also adapt traditional partnership frameworks to account for the ever-changing conversations online. What worked last year may not work next. When the collaboration makes sense, consumers will react positively and when you see your brand trending, it will only be upwards.