Influencers Losing Influence? iHeart Study Explores Marketer Biases – Billboard

September 14, 2023 - Music

Consumers and the marketers who sell to them agree: They “hear from too many influencers — and not enough real people — in marketing.” That’s according to an iHeartMedia study the company unveiled Wednesday (Sept. 13) that explores the gap between marketers and their audiences and tries to identify biases and blind spots.

Though the wording is a little bit confusing — most influencers are still real people, with a few exceptions, i.e. Lil Miquela — this conclusion aligns with what many music marketers have been saying for over a year. In essence: Throwing bags of money at popular TikTok accounts and hoping this will magically lead to music discovery and drive streams is not an effective or efficient approach.

Marketing spends “started becoming less effective when people and brands were really looking at people’s influence based upon follower count,” says Coltrane Curtis, founder of the marketing agency Team Epiphany. Curtis has been an active proponent of the notion that “the pay-to-play model is ineffective, oversaturated and counterintuitive.” “Influence is about trust,” he adds. “When you start seeing everyone paying for it, you feel duped and taken advantage of.”

Last year, the music consulting agency ContraBrand analyzed TikTok’s top 200 from the first half of 2022. The company determined that “paid-for tactics, such as influencers and ads, accounted for success in under 12% of the platform’s viral tracks.” In 2020, as industry after industry awoke to TikTok’s power as an advertising tool and started pouring money into the platform, “you would literally have an influencer’s rate to post go from $500 to $1,500 in a day,” ContraBrand co-founders Sean Taylor and Jacorey Barkley told Billboard last year. “That was happening day in, day out. Influencer campaigns have become both less accessible and less effective.”

iHeart laid out its new study — and gently prodded marketers to think about spending more on podcast advertising (a sector in which the company is highly invested) — during a chat between Conal Byrne, CEO of the company’s digital audio group, and author and podcast host Malcolm Gladwell in Manhattan.

The conclusions of the study echoed many of the think pieces written after Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election: Coastal cities are out of touch with large swathes of the country. In this case, the focus was on marketers themselves, who spend time in their own “bubbles,” never taking the time to notice that others might not share their passions and priorities. 

This point was driven home through a barrage of statistics. While all the marketers surveyed were familiar with NFTs, 40% of consumers had never heard of them. Marketers have the hots for artificial intelligence — 66% “are excited about the potential” the tech “will unlock for society” — but consumers are tepid about the robot-driven future, with only 39% excited. Marketers are apparently “motivated by fortune, fame and fear;” “consumers are motivated by friends and family.”

The study did not address itself to the music industry. But in her opening remarks, Gayle Troberman, iHeart’s chief marketing officer, sounded much like a major label executive. There is “more competition than ever before… for consumer attention,” she said. “We’ve never had more data, and yet, it’s never been harder to win.”

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