Young shoppers ignore corporate-controlled influencers, research reveals

  • Date

    Mon 19 Dec 22

Image from behind of older girl sitting outside using her mobile phone

Corporate-controlled influencers fail to sway savvy Gen Z shoppers despite firms spending an estimated £4bn in the sector, research has revealed.

A University of Essex study has shown that 18 to 24-year-olds will ignore campaigns if they think brands are controlling social media stars fronting promotions.

This is despite companies in America ploughing an estimated $4.14bn into campaigns fronted by social media personalities who pitch directly to their followers.

The researchers found that young people will avoid or unfollow promoters if they think an endorsement is dishonest, unrealistic or shows unsustainable lifestyles.

The study led by Dr Abhisek Kuanr, an expert in consumer behaviour at Essex Business School, shows honesty and authenticity drive Gen Z shoppers.

“Gen Zers are distinguished by their search for truth, originality and ethics in their relationship with influencers and brands alike,” he said.

“Our research suggests that they consider succumbing to brand control and posting content that has been dictated by brands as morally irresponsible and they will then avoid both the brand and the influencer.”

Dr Kuanr and his team carried out an experimental investigation, looking at the responses of 750 young people across the UK and the US.

They found Gen Z is aware of influencer marketing strategies adopted by brands, but expect companies and influencers to behave responsibly.

The paper highlights the partnership between Volvo and Chriselle Lim, a known influencer in the field of beauty, fashion and lifestyle, as an example of influencer marketing gone wrong.

Lim partnered with Volvo to create a professional video highlighting that the brand is environmentally responsible and safety conscious, which was significantly different from her usual content.

The post received negative reactions from her followers – the majority of whom were Gen Z – who questioned the credibility of both the influencer and the brand.

“The findings of our research point to the fact that Gen Zers want influencers to provide genuine information rather than to succumb to the controlling power of brands,” said Dr Kuanr. “They expect brands to be truthful and not to engage in any acts of moral transgression.

“Gen Z consumers negatively react to such morally transgressive acts by showing their disapproval of both the brands and the influencers through avoidance, and their anger is deeper towards the brands.”

The researchers also identified that Gen Zers respond differently to macro influencers and micro influencers – so those with a large number of followers compared to those with a much smaller number.

They found that Gen Z consumers will penalise influencers with more followers as they believe they should act more responsibly.

The researchers conclude that companies should focus more on the level of engagement influencers have with their audiences, rather than just looking at the number of followers.

The research report, which offers key insights into how to prevent acts of consumer punishment towards influencers and brands, was recently published in the Psychology and Marketing Journal.