Creating a Human Brand Through Influencer Marketing


Opinion: Millennials and Gen Z-will dominate spending decisions for the next decade

It’s 1991. You switch on your (non-LED) television to hear Maybelline New York’s famous jingle, “Maybe She’s Born With It, Maybe It’s Maybelline,” and see supermodel Christy Turlington’s dazzling smile, dressed in its latest lipstick. This iconic campaign caused sales to surge, lasted 24 years and was certainly an upgrade from its previous slogan, “Fine Makeup, Sensibly Priced.”

Back then, having a brand equated to having a relationship with your customers. They trusted you and assumed you were better than competitors. Perhaps most important, customers were willing to pay more for you—brand loyalty was rife.

In the case of Maybelline, selecting Turlington was strategic. Turlington is certainly a supermodel. However, she possesses an unassuming girl-next-door persona that, while glamorous, still resonates with women.

It’s doubtful this same strategy would work today. In fact, Maybelline changed its slogan in 2015 to “Make It Happen,” causing double-digit growth in the U.S. that year.

We’re also seeing a shift from mainstream celebrities fronting campaigns to influencers. Gigi Hadid was contracted to Maybelline in 2015 and, although she holds celebrity status, she was one of the first “social media supermodels.”

Influencers are becoming de rigueur for campaigns, and this is largely in part due to the shift in how younger generations, such as millennials and Generation Z, are viewing brands, media and other sources of information. Gen-Z, for example, will account for 40 percent of all consumers in 2020, according to a recent study. Deciphering how to reach this core customer group will be paramount to marketers’ success moving forward.

Gen Zers hate ads. Approximately 74 percent of millennials and Gen Zers are opposed to being targeted by brands on their social media feeds. That said, they do trust influencers, with 92 percent of consumers believing that their recommendations are more authentic than an advertisement.

For this reason, there are some brands getting it right by humanizing their marketing campaigns with these key opinion leaders.

Take Starbucks, its baristas and that Unicorn Frappuccino. The much-buzzed-about beverage went viral on social media after baristas begged customers not to order it.

Braden Burson, a barista based in Colorado, posted this video to social media on the day of the launch, ranting about how difficult it was to make the drink. In a tirade that lasted nearly two minutes, Burson said, “My hands are completely sticky, I have unicorn crap all in my hair and on my nose, I have never been so stressed out in my entire life.”

Other baristas also jumped on the bandwagon, including Tina Dee, who tweeted, “Every time you ask me to make this, a part of me dies.” Whether this was a premeditated marketing campaign or an organic reaction from baristas isn’t clear, but the reaction from consumers was. The drink was a sellout and, despite the negative feedback from Starbucks employees, a success.

The FIFA El Tornado campaign is another example of influencer marketing done right. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association created a new skill move called the “El Tornado” featuring soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo. Hidden within the game, they launched a film about a gamer discovering the move, which prompted an online hunt for the secret combo to execute it. Once discovered, this resulted in more than 50,000 trick uploads and spurred real-life attempts that were posted to social platforms.

And it wasn’t solely football fans who were inspired. American hip hop duo Run the Jewels released a track and merchandise for its single, Mean Demeanor (El Tornado Mix)James Harden wore customized El Tornado Adidas trainers, and Coca Cola took out a billboard that said “Share a Coke Zero With El Tornado.” Rival games even emulated the move, putting their own spin on it.

FIFA then took it a step further by challenging professional soccer players to do the El Tornado in real-life. In completing the challenge, the player would unlock his in-game character and become #ElTornadoCertified. Gamers also utilized social media platforms to encourage their favorite players to attempt the move.

Overall, the campaign broke all EA franchise records, resulting in a 20 percent increase in new players and 46 million El Tornado GIFs shared, and it was more talked about than Taylor Swift’s comeback, the royal engagement between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Perhaps the most poignant example of creating a human brand through influencers was executed by Care France when it launched its Stories From the Other Side of the World campaign. In order to raise awareness for women’s rights globally, Care France asked 130 influencers to “donate” their Instagram Stories to document the daily lives of women living in disadvantaged nations.

French influencers including @enjoyphoenix and @noholita took part, showcasing the day-to-day for women such as Nadia, a preschool teacher in Morocco, to Minata, a water bag vendor on the Ivory Coast.

In one week, this initiative generated 4.6 million views and garnered positive feedback from followers like @maliceaumiel, who posted, “Probably the most interesting and important Instagram account I follow …”

The success of these three campaigns highlights how meaningful the shift is away from traditional methods of advertising and toward trusted key opinion leaders. The new generations who will dominate consumer spending in the next decade are suspicious of inauthentic advertising, preferring a more personal approach. In this era, these socially savvy customers no longer have relationships with the brands themselves, but with the influencers who legitimately love their offering.

This article first appeared in

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