The final chapter of the award winning work of fiction A Visit from the Goon Squad by American author Jennifer Egan reveals a possible future for technology, advertising and society in general. Egan’s world is full of hyper-aware audiences who have moved past the sway of traditional advertising fronts. As the search for the authentic unfolds, people are only influenced by peer referral and advertisers have begun to comply with new methods. Characters called Parrots are people secretly employed to make suggestive prompts to their social circles in an attempt to influence them toward a brand, product, event or service.
In the current real world of marketing, it seems we are not far off this imagined future. The role of referral marketing has a firm hold on our social media channels and in big brands marketing strategies, as target audiences are getting smarter and increasingly aware.
The public meltdown and declared war against social media of Instagram famous teen Essena O’Neill, has revealed just how constructed and brand influenced the feeds of coveted Instagram accounts can be. Brands have long since realized the influence of beautiful people on their target audiences and the use of Instagram famous teens has taken the peer influence to a whole new level.
Strategies of special offers for followers of famous feeds and products perfectly curated in beautiful vignettes are influencing hosts of followers to new brands, styles and products daily. While followers are generally aware of these paid posts, the trust of the authentic promoter has more of an impact.
Another way big brands are targeting millennials through referral marketing is via the sponsorship of music festivals. In this selfie entrenched society, people will generally take photos without any kind of prompt, particularly if they are at an event. A few years ago, a travelling bar dubbed ‘the Jägermeister Hunting Lodge’ was set up as a party hub for festival punters to recharge. The unique and engaging surroundings meant that social media feeds were filled with images of people in the lodge with prominent signs, drinks and bar maids incorporated throughout.
Without much effort at all, Jägermeister had well and truly infiltrated the social media channels of hundreds of users, promoting their brand in an authentic and unprovoked manner.
In a similar manner, it is the job of a content marketer to gently steer a website and all subsequent content in a means to have it found organically by a Google search. Users generally are aware when they are being advertised to, and as such, marketers make use of the general peer referral policy. In the case of organic traffic, Google is the ultimate trustworthy friend sharing their authentic thoughts and opinion on certain products. Whatever ranks higher is better and whatever ranks lower is worse.
It is unlikely that this desire for referral marketing will be going anywhere in the near future. Audiences are becoming more aware of advertisers motives and more obsessed with authentic relationships as time goes on. This doesn’t mean the end of marketing by any means; it simply means we have to be smarter in our strategies.