James Charles highlights the challenges of influencer marketing

by Guest Contributor Anne Hunter | May 22, 2019

Author: Anne Hunter

Anne Hunter
Executive Vice President, Strategy & Growth

Influencer marketing is one of the most hyped marketing strategies today. However, in a world that rises and falls on public opinion, at the speed of digital, there are dangers in an influencer strategy. We can look to James Charles and The Jolly Green Giant for lessons on how to navigate this new opportunity.


For those who don’t know him, James Charles is a mega YouTube star known for his precision makeup tutorials. He was named the first male Cover Girl after his sophisticated makeup tips and glamourous personal looks plucked him from obscurity as a teen just a few years ago. Since that time, he had grown millions of social followers and developed several brand collaborations across multiple product categories as well as launched his own ‘Sisters’ line of clothing. He was recently seen walking the stairs at the Met Gala with celebrity royalty. The recent James Charles row thus showcases how pernicious the influencer marketing strategy really is.

About a week ago, his former friend and mentor exposed James as a less than gracious young man, using YouTube as the platform for her grievances. The same vehicle that drove James to stardom was used to trigger his descent. Personally, I'm disappointed to find out James is not who we thought, because he is a talented young person who was driving openness in conversations about male identity. Unfortunately he chose inappropriate behaviours that we have seen ascribed to so many celebrities recently in the #MeToo era. What's shocking is how fast millions of people have gone from loving him to unsubscribing (and a few coming back). This rapid rise and fall of digital heroes has implications for brands seeking to align with stars to help them navigate digital disruption.

Perhaps a return to the era of brand mascot is on the horizon. The Jolly Green Giant never was inappropriate on a casting couch. Mr. Whipple kept his hands off everything but the Charmin. P&G could evolve cultural visions of masculinity with Mr. Clean. I'm wondering if all the experts recommending social influencer strategies are off base. Humans are too....human, to attach your brand identity to in an era of rapid feedback and social sentiment. Losing millions of followers in a matter of days, for one of the most influential celebrities on YouTube, showcases more than one man's foibles. It's a canary in the coal mine for brands who don't build their own influence and instead attempt to short cut the work of digital development by outsourcing it to influencers.

Should brands eschew influencers and return to brand mascots? How can they prevent backlash from the human mistakes so easily amplified on social media? Please share your thoughts.


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  1. David O'Connor, May 23, 2019

    Too true. Humans are too....human, to attach your brand identity to in an era of rapid feedback and social sentiment.

    I think that the problem is that us humans always get blinded by the hype, the new shiny brand fad and forget the basics. Should we return to brand mascots? I am not convinced. They like influencers and indeed sponsored celebs are a proxy for values that organisations should live and breathe. If you are living your values and a mascot is a natural expression of your brand and character then yes.

  2. Ed C, May 22, 2019
    Wow, great point and well said. Clearly celebrities and social "stars" can have their faults. Mascots have value, though I wonder if lack the connection to being "people like me" aspect. Real testimonials are another idea, as how often do we hear about "them" doing anything wrong?

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