Today, it is nearly impossible for people to avoid influencer marketing in their day-to-day lives as they scroll on social media. At the core, influencer marketing is a collaboration between a brand and an influencer to promote their products or services. The immediate examples that come to mind are celebrity endorsements, but influencer marketing doesn’t end with just celebrities. The definition of an influencer has evolved over time and is more complex than before. Today, an influencer is someone who has the power to impact consumers’ purchasing decisions and has an engaged group of followers within a niche.
Influencer marketing is on the rise: it’s gaining traction rapidly and is not slowing down anytime soon. Its worth is expected to grow from $13.8 billion in 2021 to $15 billion in 2022, and the use of influencer marketing among U.S. marketers is expected to increase from 67.9% to 72.5% in 2022. Influencer marketing has gone through changes since its inception, especially due to the fast-paced landscape driven by technology.
A prominent trend in 2021 is the growing popularity of micro and nano influencers, who have significantly fewer followers than mega or celebrity influencers but have the highest engagement rates — meaning a stronger connection and engagement with followers to benefit a brand. Other influencer marketing trends of 2021 include brands opting for ongoing partnerships with influencers rather than a single sponsored post, performance-based partnership deals, and a greater focus on “authenticity.” Needless to say, influencer collaborations will increase, as influencer marketing trends indicate brands recognizing new relationships with influencers and building “influencer houses,” programs, and networks.
With emerging social media platforms, different types of influencer platforms have popped up as well. The surge of TikTok contributes to 68% of U.S. marketers planning to use TikTok for influencer marketing, from a survey of March 2021, trailing just behind Instagram (93%) and Instagram Stories (83%), and equivalent to Facebook (68%). TikTok’s popularity has indicated another trend of leaning towards video content. Short-form, UGC-style videos have skyrocketed, as seen with Instagram introducing Instagram Reels as their own take on TikTok-style content.
Here are 10 of the best influencer marketing campaigns of 2021:
1. Dunkin’ Donuts
Dunkin’ Donuts has a large presence on TikTok with 3 million followers and 21.3 million likes, and one of its key success factors is its strategic influencer marketing. They came to a long-term sponsorship with Charli D’Amelio, the #1 most followed TikTok creator, and solidified agreements beyond just posing with the drink, but also having Charli promote Dunkin’ with TikTok content of herself ordering the product. A viral campaign was created under the hashtag #CharliXDunkinContest and Dunkin’ released two drinks after Charli, with the first beverage release called “The Charli.” “The Charli” led to a 57% increase in app downloads on launch day and 45% increase in cold brew sales the next day.
Gymshark has consistently utilized influencer marketing throughout the past years, but one particularly successful campaign was their 66 Days: Change Your Life challenge. Gymshark takes Gymshark 66 beyond just a trend, but a 66-day event and competition of challenging oneself to change their life with positive habits, and scoring prizes at the end. By partnering with influencers that have a stronger presence on TikTok, Gymshark leaned into video content and #gymshark66 achieved 241.3 million views on TikTok and #gymshark66 has nearly 750,000 posts on Instagram. While influencers used TikTok to spread the #gymshark66 campaign, Gymshark also used Instagram’s IGTV for a “Stories of the 66” video series where individuals spoke about their experiences of changing to healthier habits in 66 days.
In partnership with Digital Voices, Magnum launched a campaign called “True To Pleasure” that is centered around a collaboration with multi-platinum singer, songwriter and activist Halsey. The campaign includes a number of individuals, a global cast, along with Halsey, all with stories of their own truths to pleasure, a video and a Magnum lens for Snapchat filters. The campaign launched the Magnum Ruby ice cream on Instagram and TikTok, and raised awareness of Magum’s True To Pleasure ethos. Magnum has a tradition of working with creatives, established and rising talents, and powerful influences across art and culture. In collaborating with Halsey, the campaign achieves success through the alignment of values: Halsey’s creativity, breaking down barriers, freedom of expression, and the embodiment of “True To Pleasure.”
Chipotle is another food brand that has had multiple campaigns involved with influencer marketing. They have had partnerships with influencers like David Dobrik and Shawn Mendes, and even recently launched a Chipotle Creator Class of 15 influencers, including viral TikTok creators, to partner with and promote Chipotle. A successful influencer marketing campaign in the summer of 2021 was a partnership with drag queens to celebrate Pride Month. The campaign was a partnership with drag stars Trixie Mattel, Kim Chi, and Gottmik, and each of their go-to Chipotle orders were featured on the Chipotle app and website, with $1 of each entree donated to an LGBTQ+ charity. Partnerships with influencers is a common practice for Chipotle, with another example being a collaboration with influencer Christina “Tinx” Najjar who has 1.4 million followers on TikTok. With an engaged following that tune in to Tinx’s recommendations, content, and vlogs, Chipotle is able to reach wider audiences especially with a custom bowl named the Tinx bowl.
Marketing agency TAKUMI led a multi-platform social campaign of #HaagIndoors with the goal to drive awareness of the new Secret Sofa initiative, drive positive sentiment and consideration for Häagen-Dazs, and generate brand sales on Amazon Prime Now. In the campaign, TAKUMI worked with 24 nano and micro influencers to provide creator-led content weekly. Awareness and user-generated content spread on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, with the influencer activity driving nearly a twofold increase in weekly sales of Häagen-Dazs on Amazon. There were 450+ influencer content created over the 8-week period, almost 3 million views, and engagement rates of 18.9% for TikTok and 4.15% for Instagram.
With over half of Tinder users aged 18-25, Tinder turned to Gen-Z influencers to promote their brand. In its 2021 influencer campaign, Tinder focused on collaborating with mega-influencers and TikTok content creators who make content that matched Tinder’s brand identity, seamlessly integrate paid posts into lifestyle content, and have strong organic engagement with followers.
7. Benefit Cosmetics
Benefit Cosmetics partnered with Crocs for a successful campaign #benefitofcrocschallenge led by influencer Manny MUA. The makeup challenge spanned across TikTok and Instagram Reels, involving participants doing beauty routines while wearing Crocs on their hands. Choosing Manny as the influencer to work with was a strategic move, as beyond just having 4 million followers, Manny is also a leading beauty influencer with brand affinity for both Benefit and Crocs. The challenge received 6 million views on TikTok and helped lead to the limited edition Crocs line to sell out.
Levi’s “Buy Better, Wear Longer” campaign teams up with singer and actor Jaden Smith and influencer Emma Chamberlain in aims to raise awareness of Levi’s sustainability efforts and the fashion industry’s overconsumption. The initiative encourages consumers to shop second-hand and commit to quality sustainably sourced materials, with the message echoed by Smith and Chamberlain in the campaign’s videos where they talk about their own mindful consumption for the planet and wearing Levi’s. Beyond the fact that Chamberlain has 11 million YouTube subscribers and 14.4 million Instagram followers, and Smith has 17.5 million Instagram followers and 8 million Twitter followers, the two influencers are also reflections of the cause and demonstrate genuinity in their promotions and messaging.
PlayStation partnered with 5 gamer influencers to promote its new virtual reality headsets, and targeted the Canadian market, focusing on Instagram and YouTube. This campaign focused on macro, micro, and nano-influencers for their higher engagement rates, as well as bridging the gap between technology audiences and gamers. The influencers, with followings ranging from almost 10,000 to 72,000 on Instagram, uploaded posts with the hashtags #PlayStationVR, #ITriedPSVR, and #PSVR and tagged @PlayStationCA. Through cross-channel promotion on Instagram and YouTube, PlayStation brought the brand and the PlayStation VR to millions of potential customers.
Moncler’s campaign #MonclerBubbleUp became a viral challenge on TikTok with the help of mega-influencers like Bella Poarch and Charli D’Amelio. The challenge videos involved Moncler’s signature bubble coat look and encouraged users to recreate the look with items at home, and set to a song that was a viral TikTok sound. This challenge gained 7.6 billion views and successfully spread awareness and engagement, from an obscure Italian high fashion brand to Gen Z.
As demonstrated by these campaigns, influencer marketing is a rapidly growing branch of digital marketing — and rightfully so with proven success. Traditional forms of advertising are becoming less and less effective, which makes influencer marketing with an emphasis on authenticity key to delivering better results.
Influencer marketing is complex in its nature, ranging from low-budget to high, involving nano-influencers or celebrities, extending across multiple platforms, and can reach a wide variety of audiences if used right. It is important to keep up with the industry trends and while having a solid brand identity, lead with authenticity when selecting influencers to partner with, understand which influencers can impact with audience personas, and keep in mind: relevance, reach, and resonance.