The Rise of Influencer Marketing

In a bid to reach young, tech-savvy consumers, brands in Jordan are increasingly partnering with social media influencers with armies of loyal online followers.

By Laith Abou-Ragheb

The advertising industry’s switch to online is picking up pace around the world, not least in Jordan, where companies of all stripes are increasingly turning to social media stars, or “influencers,” to help promote their goods and services to consumers.

Last year, Burst Media, a New York-based digital advertising agency, reported that influencer marketing drives typically yield around $7 for every $1 spent in paid media campaigns. Instagram is proving to be a particularly popular outlet for this new type of advertising, with a recent eMarketer study revealing the platform’s global mobile advertising revenues were expected to hit almost $3 billion by 2017.

These impressive figures haven’t gone unnoticed by major advertising spenders in Jordan like Time Center, the luxury watch retailer.

Time Center now dedicates 20 percent of its overall advertising budget to online, up 10 percent on last year. As part of this digital push, the retailer is collaborating more with individuals that have thousands of social media flowers. Time Center’s Marketing Manager, Anne Laure Greco, said: “We feel that it’s more effective in terms of marketing to create content that’s relevant to our audience. Therefore when we associate one of our brands with a popular local figure and have some kind of advocacy it manages to communicate a message better to consumers.”

Greco can also attest to the economic sense of using social media influencers as part of a wider strategic push online. “Compared to traditional media, it’s more cost effective with a measurable impact,” she said.

Celebrity Chef and Social Media Influencer Deemah Hijjawi

Celebrity Chef and Social Media Influencer Deemah Hijjawi

Time Center has signed promotional deals with a host of social media stars, including Deema Hajjawi, the celebrity TV chef with 200,000 Instagram followers and thousands more across other platforms like Facebook and Snapchat.

Their most recent joint campaign involved promoting a new jewelry line, which included a public appearance at the opening of a store in Mecca Mall last month. Greco has been very pleased with the results so far. “When we collaborate with Hajjawi we see a clear impact on our sales,” she said. “It’s because she has fans who follow her and they like her style and taste that they gave it attention.”

In a sign of how quickly this form of marketing is maturing, Time Center has begun to formalize its arrangements for these social media influencers. Greco said: “When we started it was more of a one shot here and there, and I’ll take a picture of you with this watch and you can keep it. We wanted to make it a bit more contractural and professional, so now we have contracts with three or four of them.”

Greco declined to say how much these contracts were worth, but remarkably she said there were still social media influencers that they couldn’t afford to hire in Jordan. According to the marketing website Digiday, some of the world’s biggest social media influencers, such as Vine star Logan Paul, can charge up to $100,000 to plug a product.

But as lucrative as this new marketing avenue is proving to be, Greco is mindful of the possible pitfalls. One is the danger of overexposure, the type of which she said occurred at the start of social media influencer phenomenon with some individuals with a substantial following on Twitter, often known as tweeps. “We have to be careful not to overuse it. This is what happened with the tweeps. They were just at every event, promoting everything,” she said. “But for us we don’t want consumers to get fed up and dismiss it as just any other marketing tool. It’s not just a matter of taking someone because they have the reach—it has to be meaningful.”

Hannah Rasekh, a fashion blogger and social media influencer

Hannah Rasekh, a fashion blogger and social media influencer

This concern is also shared by Hannah Rasekh, a fashion blogger who has worked with Time Center in the past and has 34,000 Instagram followers. “I work with brands I believe in, and if by stroke of luck I manage to get my followers to discover these brands then I feel like I’ve done my job. In no way am I comfortable influencing people against their will by saturating their feeds with posts about a particular brand. I know that digital influence comes with the territory, however I try my best to be as authentic and as transparent as possible,” she explained.

Rasekh, who runs several businesses including a high-end boutique in Amman, is currently the face of Givenchy Beauty in the Middle East and was also recently a brand ambassador for Bloomingdales in Dubai for its Spring Summer 2016 campaign. To maintain interest from her followers, she said it’s very important to be selective about which brands to partner with. “I have to believe in the brands I work with. I have declined several proposals because I felt working with certain brands will diminish my credibility. I am grateful and lucky enough to be able to do this,” she said.

In an interview published in The Guardian last month, Dominic Smales, the manager of such huge British social media influencers like Zoe Sugg and Alfie Deyes, said his clients say no to 95 percent of advertising pitches that come their way. These have included a bizarre request to pretend to use a toothbrush as a mobile phone for a week on a vlog. “We’ve had instances where the brand has insisted on too much control, and in an effort to please, the talent has said exactly what the brand has wanted them to say, and the audience has realized that it is slightly more scripted than it would normally be,” he said. “If you want the talent to follow a script, say certain things, look a certain way, do a certain thing, then use the ad units at the beginning and hire an ad agency.”

Rasekh is also keen to dismiss preconceptions that her work with brands is somehow lacking in effort and craft. “It’s actually becoming more and more hectic as the days go by and my follower base grows,” she said. “This new-world job is highly demanding; it’s not all fun and games like many may think. It’s enjoyable, but it is also extremely time consuming. Some photo shoots can last up to eight hours and deep into the night. There’s a great deal of content preparation, too.”

This was echoed by Dana Tuwairish, the Kuwait-based fashionista that has a staggering 1.5 million Instagram followers. “People still think I take an amount of money to promote a product, take the photo, and then go on my way. If I don’t make you feel like you need this product, you’re not going to buy it. So there’s a skill to it,” she said during a panel session attended by some of the region’s biggest social media influencers in Amman last month. The event was organized by Zain, another company with a big advertising budget that sees value in being associated with these fast emerging celebrities.

As Internet penetration increases in the region, there’s little doubt we’re likely to see many more of these social media influencers appear. Rasekh has some simple advice for anyone thinking of joining this increasingly crowded field. “Be authentic,” she said. “Many social media influencers opt not to post photos because they don’t fit into the look and feel of their Instagram accounts or social media page. While it’s aesthetically pleasing, it’s a form of digital restraint that I find there’s absolutely no need for. Stay true to yourself and to your follower base. Be consistent because you owe your followers that, but don’t post for the sake of posting. Content is key.”