Influencer Marketing Failure: Why Paid Endorsements Are Doomed
Pierre-Loic Assayag

Influencer marketing is now the hot ticket, according to Google trends1. With some of the largest brands increasing their investment in the practice by 10x year-over-year2, most marketers still lack the expertise to be effective. Brands are missing the mark. And it’s costing them. The FTC just reminded us, in a case against the retailer, Lord & Taylor3, of what happens when influencer marketing goes terribly wrong. Many legal opinions have already been expressed to provide a word of caution to brands that may be following similar practices – and therefore facing similar consequences.


In more ways than one, this case exemplifies all that can go wrong with “influencer marketing.” Besides the fact that failure to disclose paid endorsements for influencers is illegal, this deceptive practice, whether intended or not, is a bad idea.

Here are the seven reasons why deceitful paid endorsements are doomed for failure:

1. Consumers Know an Endorsement Deal When They See One.

There’s no need to hide an endorsement deal. Consumers aren’t stupid and they know the difference between a paid ad and authentic content. With little impact, your brand won’t score points and neither will your influencers.

Ever wonder why some people are more influential online than others? It’s because they have managed to captivate an audience with their trusted authority; when they speak (or write), their community listens. And because people pay attention, they will quickly become suspicious of undeclared endorsements. There’s really no need to disguise such endorsements. Quite the opposite. The more transparency, the more likely an influencer will maintain trust with his or her audience.

The FTC just reminded us...of what happens when influencer marketing goes terribly wrong. Click to Tweet

2. Influencers Who Partner With Noncompliant Brands Won’t Be Influential for Much

For influencers, their authority in their community is their currency; they will lose it in a hurry over paid endorsement deals. Yet, once they reach a certain amount of success on social media (read: have harnessed a sizable captive audience), too many influencers try to monetize that success through endorsement deals.

In social media, it is the equivalent of influencer suicide. What makes influencers influential is not the size of their audience, but the trust they’ve built within their community. The minute influencers turn to endorsement deals, they quickly lose the trust they had earned and their influential status becomes meaningless. And just like that, an influencer becomes spam.

True influencers will always value their community over sponsors and ensure that what they do brings value to their community.

3. Brands Overpay Influencers for Reach Because It’s Easily Understood by Media Buyers.

The reach data used by “marketplaces for influence” (which is an absurd concept to begin with) to define price driving metrics is fundamentally flawed for two reasons:

  • An influencer’s power to drive success is based on his or her ability to drive actions, not social impressions (other less obvious metrics, such as resonance and relevance of an influencer trump reach).
  • Reach data itself is stealthy as it’s so easy for someone on social to tune out a content source without that becoming visible to the world.

The vast majority of pseudo influencers participating in these networks or marketplaces yield very little influence. Key influencers have successfully executed business models and don’t need endorsement deals facilitated by third parties. Nor do they need brands to tell them how to engage with their communities.

True influencers will always value their community over sponsors... Click to Tweet

4. Paid Endorsements Create Noise and No Impact, and They Don’t Work.

Brands that are struggling to get the ear of their buyers on social media will too often attempt to buy their presence on influencer channels in the form of paid brand or product endorsements. By the very nature of those social influencers who are most interested in accepting the endorsement, such campaigns will create noise over impact. Not all social impressions are equal, unless the impressions are organically driven by an influential community.

5. There’s a Better Way: Rely on Organic Influence Over Endorsements (Relationship Driven, Not Money Needed).

Savvy brands have long since realized that they actually don’t need to pay for endorsements. The best and most impactful endorsements by influencers come from a place of authenticity. This requires that the brand develops and nurtures its relationships with influencers, which starts with making a human connection and putting the influencers’ needs first. Most of these organic endorsements don’t require a monetary exchange between the brand and the influencer, and they produce the most impact. Value exchange doesn’t mean money exchange.

6. Follow a Clear Code of Conduct to Engage With Influencers in Paid Relationships, but in a Different Way.

Many brands will engage successfully in paid relationships with influencers and there’s a clear code of conduct on how to do it (with higher standards than the FTC’s). Check out the Seven Golden Rules to Paying Influencers. The key to successful paid relationships with influencers is primarily based on two vectors:

  • The relationship didn’t start with money exchanged, but rather grew towards doing more together.
  • A clear line was drawn by the brand and the influencer for their audience on what work is paid for versus what is organic; yes, transparency is the new marketing.

7. Did I Mention Deceitful Paid Endorsements Are Illegal?

Still think you can’t convince your boss to avoid paying influencers to pretend they love you for a day? Maybe this will help: It’s illegal. Ask yourself: Is your brand really beyond redemption? Can’t it drive genuine advocacy by influencers?


Pierre-Loïc Assayag is the CEO and Co-Founder of Traackr. A veteran of the internet economy, Pierre-Loïc is focused on using technology as an instrument of change and innovation to transform companies and industries as he did successively at Viant (first internet pure play consultancy), Invivia (seamless computing), Optaros (SaaS implementation for e-commerce), and now at Traackr. He sees Traackr, and the underlying practice of influencer marketing the company founded, as a catalyst for inevitable change for all organizations to regain the trust and attention of their customers.

  1. Influencer Marketing: Interest over time. Google Trends, Mar. 2016. Web. 31 Mar. 2016. <>
  2. Stewart, Rebecca. Traackr launches Academy of Influencer Marketing as brand investment in the platform increases. The Drum, 29 Mar. 2016. Web. 31 Mar. 2016. <>
  3. Tadena, Nathalie. Lord & Taylor Reaches Settlement with FTC over Native Ad Disclosures. The Wall Street Journal, 15 Mar. 2016. Web. 31 Mar. 2016. <>