Influencer 2.0: Authenticity and advocacy

Aaron McFeely, Lead Strategist at Space on how a return to authenticity is the key ingredient to the survival of influencer marketing, something that brands should both value and seek out.

Over the festive period as contact, albeit digital, with families increased to a couple of chats a week and current affairs conversation shifted from the obvious state of the world to some of the subtleties we’ve become used to, I was given a refresher course on reality by my Dad. As a newly initiated Instagrammer, he noticed a stark difference in how some influencers, known to him through friends of me and my siblings, portray themselves. To him, there appears to be a division, and excuse the generalisation, between a pre-COVID perfection-obsessed group, and a new realistic generation who have found irrelevance in ideal living and are embracing imperfection. The influencer awakening has taken hold and the relatability of struggles and self-expression have become a new standard in advocacy.

If an influencer is a gateway for feeling like a brand gets you, then influencers need to centralise authenticity, even if it is at times ugly.
Aaron McFeely, Strategist at Space

For years, influencers have been mounting a subconscious pressure to be wearing fresh outfits daily, holidaying constantly and never failing to live our best lives. Anything less had started to feel like failure. This issue didn’t appear overnight. Over the years, influencers have become conscious of what works, optimising and creating according to the gospel of the algorithm. They have, through averages, largely become clones of one another. While they could create cult status for products, the appearance of an item across dozens of accounts has the potential to devalue a brand in the long term.

Uniqueness becomes ubiquity. Anecdotally, a friend and usual fan of luxury stealth brand Bottega Veneta noted her disappointment at the brands obvious targeting of influencers through instantly recognisable Instagram-able items. This resulted in a shift from ‘in-the-know-ness’ to being part of the ‘you-can’t-sit-with-us’ popular crowd. As well as the knowledge that a pay cheque would trump personal preference for products, there had become a sense that the game was to figure out what the next Instagram hit would be rather than advertising things that influential people loved.

The circuit breaker came when COVID hit, and the aspirational became offensive overnight. The algorithmic perfection seemed completely irrelevant. Even more so, the reality of being locked down in houses and being confronted with the same emotional challenges as everyone else made any influencer who was obviously faking perfection feel dissonant. Both professionally and personally, the industry had to consider, when does an influencer become an ‘unfluencer’?

Centralising authenticity

This begged the question, how do influencers a) stay relevant and b) stay in work. The answer lies in bringing the awkward, struggling, authentic challenges closer to the model in question. The truth: people love real brands. Social Media Today (May 2019) reported that 90% of consumers said that authenticity is important when deciding which brands, they like and support. Influencers are chosen for their ability to communicate both human and brand values at the same time. So, it follows that if an influencer is a gateway for feeling like a brand gets you, then influencers need to centralise authenticity, even if it is at times ugly.

Brands have onboarded the idea of being more flawed and at times weird for a few years now. Things that aren’t perfect have started to become desirable. Yes, brands like Balenciaga give difference, cultural capital and clout, but even brands like Cravendale, who act a bit more bizarre, tap into our want to feel seen. We don’t want to have to feel perfect 24/7. We want to let go, we want to ‘breathe out’, express ourselves and feel like we can be us.

Space and Haagen-Dazs in Germany recently worked with content platform ABOUT YOU to create a clothing collection with up-and-coming designers and influencers who were using lockdown as an opportunity to express themselves. An authentic moment delivering on the brand’s DON’T HOLD BACK message. As a result, we are now seeing a new generation of authentic expression emerge for the brand earning relevance in the market. A far more credible positioning than the anxiety-inducing idea of having to remain perfectly happy and model good-looking while indulging in an uncompromisingly delicious ice cream.

The fact is that we are all able to publish ourselves and our daily lives through social media. We all know that gum drop, lollipop and rainbow perfection is taxing to maintain, even in the brightest of times, so it seems disturbing that influencers would continue to maintain this inauthentic tonality. So, not only is authenticity good for brand relationships and with their consumers, but it also creates competitive edge through wellness. Ultimately, if my Dad can see through the unrelatable-ness of perfection then realness has value, and it makes a person feel like they belong with your brand.


  • Homogeny in marketing, including influencer marketing creates a race to the bottom.
  • Embracing flaws and being honest validates consumer emotions and helps build brand rapport.
  • Authenticity is the second most influential factor for consumers when making brand choices. This should be applied to influencers who represent brands.
  • Do not be afraid to be real and sometimes a bit weird. It helps you stand out from the competition.

This article originally appeared as a guest piece on Creativebrief.

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