Influencer Marketing – a major RESET is needed: Chaitanya Chinchlikar, Whistling Woods International

Celebrities, their managers & agents, look at IM as a good & easy way to make money without bothering to understand the nature of it in depth writes Chaitanya Chinchlikar, Vice President & Chief Technology Officer, Whistling Woods International.


Before we get into the condition of the Influencer Marketing (IM) world today and why I believe the IM ecosystem is rapidly destroying itself, let’s first understand what influencer marketing is. Simply put, influencer marketing is using the fame (& ensuing social media reach) of a particular Individual to insert/include advocacy of a brand through a personal connect. This reach or influence is generally defined by follows, subscriptions, views, likes, retweets, comments, poll participation, shares, reposts, etc. 

The world of marketing has been on a move from ‘hard selling’ to increasingly subtler forms of marketing and, after pure advertising, in-film branding & branded content, influencer marketing emerged as the most subtle form of brand persuasion. In influencer marketing, the individual does not come out openly and ask you to buy or use a product or a service, but they extol its virtues in a personal way which, marketers believe, causes their personal values and credibility to rub off on the brand being extolled.

Now, before we get to what the problems in the world of influencer marketing are, I should definitely mention that, despite a problematic majority, there still exists a significant minority that is doing an excellent job of being an influencer and still continues to excel in both their principle career / profession as well as in being a influencer of brands / products.

However, in my opinion, here’s where a big part of the influencer marketing ecosystem has come off the rails. As expected, it started with the same core problem that always makes a good idea go awry – Greed!

Celebrities & more importantly, their managers & agents, looked at IM as a good & easy way to make money and without bothering to understand the nature of it in depth, went overboard with it, causing it to collapse under its own weight.

How? By:

- ‘buying’ social media reach (buying followers, views, likes, posts, comments),

- going overboard on the number of brands one was an influencer for,

- forgetting that the core value of an influencer comes not from being an influencer but that they stand for values of success, excellence & integrity in their field of expertise,

- the entire ecosystem forgetting that the secret sauce of IM is that people did not know that the influencer was an influencer,

The first stone in the wall (the wall between advertising & influencer marketing) came loose when influencers were seen to be peddling numerous brands, causing doubts on how & why would a person have expertise to extol the virtues of a particular type of shoe and a particular type of smartwatch and a particular brand of milk.

The next big crack in the wall showed up when a majority of the content put out by an influencer was about brands and less & less content was being put out about there are of expertise. And so, the real reason why they were popular in the first place was pushed into the background.

The third gaping hole opened up when influencers started to go on panel discussions and advertising forms and sat next to creative executives from advertising agencies & spoken openly to the public on how they ‘strategised’ their influencer marketing ‘careers’.

And the last big cannon ball which was shot through the wall, which has caused the wall to come crumbling down is the latest outing of the business of selling ‘social media reach’.

The Mumbai police SIT, as part of a separate investigation related to identity theft, has identified 68 companies selling fake followers and fake social media activities like followers, subscriptions, views, likes, retweets, comments, shares, etc.

Just 1 company - ‘Avmsmm’, which is accused of selling fake followers, has completed 25,000 orders till date and has sold 2.3 crores, fake followers, till date. The ‘Rate Card’ that Avmsmm had maintained for their ‘products’ is also out in public domain.






Followers + comment

Rs272/ follower + comment

Minimum- 1,000

Maximum- 1,000

Insta likes

Rs 120/like

Minimum- 10

Maximum- 50,000


Rs 1,600/comment

Minimum- 10

Maximum- 1,00,000



Rs 153/view

Minimum- 500

Maximum- 10,00,000


Rs 216/subscriber

Minimum- 20

Maximum- 200


Rs 138/share

Minimum- 100

Maximum- 500



Rs 1,904/follower

Minimum- 50

Maximum- 6,000

poll votes

Rs 75/vote

Minimum- 100

Maximum- 10 crore

So, imagine if just 1 company has sold so much ‘influence’, how much ‘reach’ the entire marketplace must have sold. The entire foundation of the IM ecosystem – the reach of the influencers is, in my opinion, in question.

There is also apparently an entire e-commerce platform where you can ‘buy social media influence’, named FollowersKart – registered & housed out of France. The SIT has already written to the French Government (via the MEA) and sought details of the same and has asked to question them.

This has affected the biggest of names. In 2019, an analysis from the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance (ICMP) had claimed that actors Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Deepika Padukone are among the 10 celebrities who have maximum numbers of bought influence (mostly through bots) on Instagram. With 58 per cent of purchased fake Instagram followers, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres was at the top of the list.

With the wall between advertising & influencer marketing having crumbled, today there is absolutely no difference between a majority of influencer marketing & advertising, and hence the incremental impact that influencer marketing is supposed to have, has gone away. All influencers who have ‘come out’ as influencers are today no better than brand ambassadors.

However, it is not all lost, forever. This is how, in my opinion, the IM ecosystem can resurrect itself.

Firstly, I do think IM is a good idea – Oh YES it is! In my opinion, it is the most innovative form of advertising / marketing that has emerged in the 21st century. But, like all things – it has to be done in moderation, within the parameters that the concept is defined by and we have to try and somehow avoid greed.

The IM ecosystem needs to edge out everyone who has ‘come out’ as an influencer or who has been seed to be overdosing on brands and buying social media reach. They should all be moved over to the Advertising / Brand Ambassador column and the IM ecosystem should refresh itself with new individuals. We have several excellent & successful people in India in multiple fields who each have a tremendous amount of influence.

The advertising / IM ecosystem should get back to scratch / ground zero / a blank piece of paper – whatever metaphor you want to use, to get things going again so that we have a well-functioning, successful and impactful influencer marketing ecosystem. Start narrow, start small, build out a large volume of niche or nano influencers who cause impact in specific products & services and are able to do it genuinely, with credibility & without seeking any glory as ‘influencers’, and then grow with them. As they excel into more success, so will their impact.

If advertising is overt diplomacy, influencer marketing is spycraft. Having one is great but the key to a spy’s longetivity is to use the information they bring judiciously so that the other side does not suspect them of being an agent.

I have to end with a joke on Influencer marketing. Not sure if all of you are following the twitter trend of “I have a joke on……. But……”, but here it goes anyway…

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