This is the year that Cannes Lions has officially recognised influencer marketing, marked by the birth of the Social and Influencer category.

While some adfolk have remained skeptical of influencer marketing, we caught up with co-founder of influencer marketing platform Whalar, Neil Waller, to find out whether influencers are truly having their moment in the advertising industry or whether this spell is just a passing fad. Waller concludes that influencers are here to stay if their reach, creativity and popularity is considered - and their love of creativity and determination to work is testament to their longevity.

Why do you think the Social and Influencer category was introduced this year to Cannes Lions?

Cannes Lions has been quite open about the fact that it is exploring opportunities to stay relevant to the industry and the inaugural Social and Influencer category in the festival’s 65th year is part of that. We have a new emerging view of creativity, one that has been enabled by technology and that has completely transformed how we perceive creativity from every possible angle. How we consume it, how we develop it, and above all, who has the power to create.

Whilst advertising agencies are still powerhouses of creativity, they are no longer the only source and instead of a central flame from which all creativity flows, we have millions of individuals creating their own unique brand of energy. Influencer marketing is now regularly included as part of advertising campaigns, and the introduction of the Social and Influencer category shows that the industry is ready to recognise the agencies that are excelling at orchestrating the value that creators with influence offer.


Where do you see the future of influencer marketing going?

With any kind of creativity it is hard to predict just how far things can really evolve. Our chairman Sir John Hegarty is one of the founding fathers of the ad industry and I think even he would have struggled to forecast the modern advertising landscape when he started out. The opportunities offered by the Whalar platform didn’t exist even ten years ago and if we fast forward ten years, influencer marketing will be played out on platforms that we haven’t even imagined yet.

Brands are undoubtedly beginning to see the value of influencer marketing to their overall marketing strategies. On their recent global advertising campaign Labels Are For Clothes, River Island worked with us as part of an integrated strategy that also encompassed outdoor, television and print. This influencer campaign reached over 7 million people and generated around 800,000 engagements. Over time, we will see more and more brands including influencer marketing within their overall advertising strategies. The Whalar platform helps brands to connect with the right influencers to suit their specific campaign objectives; in the future, I can see AI developing to finesse this procedure even further.

The introduction of the Social and Influencer category shows that the industry is ready to recognise the agencies that are excelling at orchestrating the value that creators with influence offer.

Can you briefly explain what it takes to be an influencer and how does this differ, if at all, from being a social media star?

Influencers or social media stars come in all guises, they span different industries like health and fitness, travel or fashion. They may be young, old or anything in between; they can be of any ethnicity or gender. But there are three things that contribute to success as an influencer, namely creativity, authenticity and determination. Building a dedicated following takes time, and can only be achieved by creating the type of quality content that resonates with a particular audience on a particular platform. The creators with influence that we work with at Whalar are selected because they are experts at creating beautiful and engaging content, and have cultivated a captivated, loyal audience through sharing their exceptional work. 


How do you find ‘influencers’; is it purely a numbers game?

People often get caught up with the numbers in influencer marketing, but engagement is a far more reliable indicator of success. Take Instagram creator Dominique @allthatisshe who creates around family, parenting and motherhood. Dominique has around 500,000 followers yet has content that elicits more than 70,000 likes for a single post. What we look for is strong, quality content that has a clear message coupled with a really strong engagement rate. To get this we divide the number of average likes by followers.


What trends are you currently identifying in influencer marketing?

We’re seeing a definite trend towards even higher quality content. Some of the work produced by influencers now is simply stunning, it would look right at home on a billboard, or gracing the pages of a glossy magazines. The work created by @lisadanielle for our recent campaign with Tanqueray on the It’s What You Put In campaign is just one example of this. Lisa styled Tanqueray gin in a whimsical backyard setting in glorious Byron Bay, New South Wales, resulting in over 18,000 engagements. The huge benefit to the brand is that they are then able to utilise this unique creative work across their own social media channels. The trend for higher quality content is one that will only increase, and we are also seeing a move towards using influencer marketing to drive societal change. River Island’s #LabelsAreForClothes mocking outdated labels given to people is a brilliant one, as is UNICEF’s #EarlyMomentsMatter campaign- both are campaigns that we’ve put forward in the Social and Influencer category for Cannes Lions.


Influencer marketing still feels new now, but will it eventually be just as traditional as getting Hugh Jackman to advertise Mont Blanc pens?

The major players are investing in influencer marketing now alongside their traditional advertising mediums and this is something that will just build and build, so already influencer marketing is becoming bedded in as part of the integrated advertising strategy. What is special about influencer marketing though is that it is accessible to anyone and everyone, and that means it will keep on pushing boundaries as more voices are heard.


Above: Montblanc: The Story of Montblanc


How important are/will social influencer campaigns be now and in the coming years?

We’re already witnessing a huge shift in consumer behaviour around advertising. Think about the last time you were watching something on TV and started to scroll through Instagram when the adverts came on. This is the new normal. The indicators are that traditional advertising is losing the hold it once had on us, whilst the power of social media is increasing. We’re more engaged with influencers because they are creating around topics and themes that we intrinsically connect with, their content feels more attuned to us specifically in a way that an advert rarely can be. Brands are recognising this, meaning that influencer campaigns will only become more popular in the future. It has also been reported that consumers spend 1 in every 5 digital minutes on either Instagram or Facebook, a figure that is expected to increase, so it is vital that advertisers consider this within their strategies. That’s why we are really looking forward to presenting The Influencer Gallery at Cannes Lions, no-one that visits and sees the amazing work being produced right now could fail to be inspired by the capabilities of influencer marketing for the future.


Click here to RSVP to Whalar's Influencer Marketing Gallery event at Cannes Lions.