Stuart La Brooy, Global Brand Manager, SK-II told the All That Matters audience that he spent much of his childhood watching Dino Riders. His world was all about the good Valorians and evil Rulons in the age of dinosaurs. He eventually realized that Dino Riders was produced as a promotion to launch a new Tyco toy line. He felt cheated at first,—angry at Dino Riders and Tyco both. After careful consideration (and probably not in such adult words), he thought of the value he was getting. That made him a collector of Tyco toy line.
That story has relevance even today. How many of us trust an influencer we follow closely only to realize later that they were paid by a brand to talk about the product? We all know better than to trust what we read and see online, and that means that brands need to be authentic if they are to have any hope of breaking through our filters.
Ryan Higa, popular online video star, really seems to get this. When asked about how he connects with his 17 million fans, he said, “They’re not my fans. They’re my friends.” 90% of online content creators generate income from those annoying preroll advertisements. Those ads are less annoying when you realize that the creators are, in essence, advertising-supported media channels. Of course, they are brands too. And if they fake authenticity, they will fail.
Tripping and learning
SK-II had a two-fold strategy. Either pay bloggers to get them to talk about their product or get them to come to an event where everyone meets up and pray that they talk about the brand. As it happens, both strategies sucked. The first made them spend a lot of money at the cost of losing authenticity and the second one, well that just produced a lot of selfies.
SK-II finally thought of how to humanise their brand. They connected with beauty bloggers over Skype and made it clear to them that they were looking at partnering—not sponsoring—and that they had a keen interest in building a real relationship. They called this the SK-II Beauty Circle. I’m not sure about others, but that would be the first thing that’d pique my interest towards the brand.
Then they started trying to understand the goals of the influencers, what they wanted to be and why so that they could fit SK-II into systems that would be beneficial to both parties.
They connected creators from all over the world together at events and spoke about their product, except, this time they knew exactly who these influencers were and what problems they faced in their day-to-day lives. They were clear to not put any editorial control on whatever content these bloggers produced.
That was clever, since the strategy actually got the creators to speak about the brand in a positive way, generating goodwill in the market. They also generated real heat among millennials, generating 1 billion impressions in 6 months. Soon The Beauty Circle became a collaboration of SK-II’s non-sponsored, collaborative global creator network of top beauty and fashion influencers, who were happy for SK-II to use their content on their channels.
Under the lens
Stuart advises brands to change the parameters of ROI. Not everything tangible is profitable. Another way of looking at it is to use the advertising dollars one would have to invest to get the kind of impressions that they received.
For SK-II, the authentic connection was more valuable to them than sales, although the increase in brand value was proof enough that the strategy worked. All because they realized they weren’t in the eyeball chase business but in the connection business.