Influencer Culture’s Changes Affect How Brands Should Market During NYFW

Influencers Emma Chamberlain and Charli D’Amelio for Louis Vuitton; Image courtesy of Louis Vuitton on Instagram

Over the pandemic, there has been a general rise in disdain regarding celebrity and influencer culture. Sub-par celebrity efforts to sympathize come off as out of touch. Gal Gadot’s “Imagine” project is such example of insensitivity, with influencer’s product pushes during such a sensitive time are deemed disingenuous. Much of the general public have lost trust in celebrities and influencers alike as many have also been caught throwing massive parties while simultaneously pushing social distancing and mask wearing on their social media channels. This leaves many to wonder, is celebrity and influencer culture officially dead?

Image courtesy of Unsplash

As we near New York Fashion Week (NYFW) and the MET Gala, this question is increasingly more important as the guest lists of both events are often just as important as the events themselves. Traditionally, the front row of NYFW had been taken over by the press, stylists, celebrities, and retail buyers; however, in recent years, fashion influencers and bloggers have filled up the coveted front seats as other industry personnel are pushed to the back. Rumors of this year’s MET Gala guest list floated around social media recently, and there was significant backlash. A viral tweet with over 60,000 likes and comments on the rumored influencer guest list by writing, “You could’ve told me this was the Kid’s Choice Awards guest list, and I wouldn’t have questioned you.” With an event as prestigious as the MET Gala, this comparison makes it clear that influencers may be diluting its reputational value, which may have implications for NYFW brands as well.

Image courtesy of Statista

According to a 2017 Statista graph about worldwide Instagram influencer marketing, the United States accounted for 49% of worldwide influencer sponsored posts. This was during the peak of influencer marketing in the US. A recent 2021 Statista global consumer survey focused on “the influence of influencers” to spur consumer purchase decisions by country, marks the United States at a meager 13% transactional influence. This is comparative to 41% influence in Brazil, 35% in China, and 31% in India—all significant emerging market economies. These statistics signify that influencer marketing, in a traditional transactional sense, may have reached saturation in the United States as traditional influencer marketing is rising in emerging economies.

Image courtesy of Statista

Despite clear reputational damage and a decline in traditional influencer marketing/product pushes, influencer marketing has certainly not evaporated in the US. According to a 2021 survey conducted by Influencer Marketing Hub, “59% of companies have a budget specifically allocated to content marketing, and 75% of that group plans to dedicate funds to influencer marketing.” This, however, does not mean that influencer culture has not evolved drastically. The same report notes the increased engagement with micro-influencers (less than 15,000 followers) over mega-influencers (1M+ followers); “On Instagram, there is a clear preference (57.78%) for micro-influencers, followed by 23.57% for regular influencers.” An extensive annual report by Launchmetrics entitled, “The State of Influencer Marketing 2020” helps to rationalize this shift towards micro-influencers on social media, specifically Instagram. In their predictions for future influencer trends, the report states, “Now, more than ever, consumers are looking to brands and influencers who they can connect with and relate to. The content that is being produced as a result of this will become less product-focused and will start to tell more of a story that sheds light on how brands fit into creators’ lives. Those that recognize and empathize with the situation that many of their followers are in, whilst remaining honest with their audiences will win out.” Micro-influencers tend to have more of a niche and intimate following which allows for better storytelling and authenticity.

Leonie Hanne wearing Dior; Image courtesy of Leonie Hanne on Instagram

Leonie Hanne, a fashion influencer with a longstanding partnership with Dior, asserts this same notion as she states in an interview with Launchmetrics, “Currently, a lot of high-end brands work with the people they think are cool—they always just show how amazing influencer relationships are with brands, but they don’t actually communicate with people. I think this is now the massive difference—I can still post fashion, but I need to incorporate storytelling, it’s all about communicating.” This means that there is a major shift in influencer’s taking the lead in brand partnerships for an outcome that is mutually beneficial and aligns with the influencer’s personal values.

Naomi Elizee, Vogue Market Editor, wearing Christopher John Rogers; Image courtesy of Naomi Elizee on Instagram

The definition of an influencer has also broadened as the line between traditional media editors and influencers has blurred. This means that during NYFW, the traditional seating delineations are not so straightforward. Many fashion editors like Julia Sarr-Jamois, Naomi Elizee, Kat Collings, and Nikki Ogunnaike have become influencers in their own right. Fashion editors can get in on the immediacy of social media by posting NYFW behind the scenes stories while also sharing lengthy story-telling pieces in their respective publications. This allows for a more complete look at a brand’s collection which is a unique advantage that brands should be cognizant of.

Kat Collings, Who What Wear Editor in Chief, wearing Givenchy; Image courtesy of Kat Collings on Instagram

NYFW has transitioned towards a more global focus prompted by Tom Ford’s open letter from the CFDA to rename the NYFW calendar the “American Collections Calendar” to include American designers showing in other countries. As previously noted, traditional marketing is at its peak in emerging markets like Brazil, China, and India, so brands promoting their collections in these countries may benefit from traditional product placement influencer posts. Brands showing in New York City; however, must be aware of the changing influencer landscape and should look to fashion editors who double as influencers as well as micro-influencers who can tell a unique story with the brand. While trust of influencers and celebrities has declined in the US, brands also need to carefully curate who they choose to work with to promote authenticity and a storytelling approach or else they may suffer serious reputational damage evidenced by the uproar following the MET Gala guest list.

—Tessa Swantek

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