Product Placement vs Influencer Marketing – There’s a Difference

Lots of attention is being paid to marketing campaigns that feature a targeted group of consumers that are sent product samples, gifts or other sweeteners, in the hope that these consumers spread nice words about their experience to their social networks. There are plenty of examples of this, including Virgin America, Gilt.com, and Kotex.

These campaigns use the premise that consumers that post frequently, and/or have a large following, are influential, and their influence will rub off on readers, which then leads to an increase in market awareness (and hopefully follow-on sales). Such campaigns are often cited as examples of influencer marketing.

But there is a fundamental flaw in the campaign structure, which is this. There’s a massive difference between targeted research into proven influencers (that is, identifying people whose influence can be demonstrated tangibly through their actions and the impact they have on decision makers) and educated guesswork (identifying people only on the basis that they are either highly connected or self-promoters). Pinterest may be a good way of identifying a subset of people that have a following but their influence is, at best, unproven. How do we know that one consumer will rush out a buy a product based on a review they read by another consumer? Without research into impact, we don’t.

In other words, these campaigns are examples of good product placement, but that’s all. There’s a trend to give the name influencer marketing to anything that identifies a subset of people in the hope that they spread the word. But it is just that – a hope. True influencer marketing requires much more detailed research to prove the link between spreading the word and achieving measurable impact.

More broadly, this kind of campaign is akin to celebrity endorsements, but cheaper. They use social media to identify pseudo-celebrity consumers, which is fair enough, just not influencer marketing.

Duncan Brown is Managing Director, Europe, at Influencer50 in London and co-author of Influencer Marketing: Who Really Influences Your Customers? Follow him on Twitter at @duncanwbrown.