Among many other happenings in the fashion and beauty businesses, 2018 will go down as the year that the power of the influencer exploded. In the last 12 months, these ever-so-humble content creators diversified their incomes to include the sales of everything from apparel collections to shoe collaborations to books — some even went so far as to monetize once-thought-to-be intimate moments like, say, a wedding or a birth.
Moral smugness aside, there's hard data to back up the statement that influencers were everywhere this year — and raking in serious amounts of cash. According to the 2018 State of the Creator Economy report by IZEA, a marketing software company, influencer marketing grew in 2018 across most platforms; among those surveyed, 70 percent of companies invest in influencer marketing.
The point is, there's so much money and energy flowing into the $2 billion influencer economy because this type of marketing is rated significantly higher in effectiveness than all traditional cross-media advertising approaches — more than television advertising, magazine advertising, as well as the OG influencer marketing, celebrity endorsements. (Indeed, print magazine advertising fell by $400 million across the industry in 2017, representing a roughly six-percent decrease.)
Take Revolve, for example: The 15-year-old company filed for its initial public offering in October, predicated on triple-digit growth and a commitment to building on the momentum of the influencer economy. While the average company budgets between $500,000 to a million dollars a year for influencer marketing, Revolve dedicated about $14 million to influencer and social media marketing in 2017. (This, by the way, is only 25 percent of its marketing budget; the majority is spent on "performance marketing efforts" like retargeting, paid search, and email marketing, according to its IPO filing.) All of those trips around the world, Coachella parties and self-serving awards shows that fill your Instagram feeds have proven to push incredible amounts of product.
Hullabaloo about FTC influencer disclosure crackdowns, shady influencer deals, the emerging importance of micro-influencers and even nanoinfluencers only pushed the influencer conversation forward this year. These people, and the companies that employ them, generated a number of headline-making moments over the past 12 months.
What were those moments, you ask? Below, we break down the year of the influencer.
Influencer collaborations with beauty brands
While it seemed like every month brought with it another major deal between a beauty influencer and cosmetics company, there were notable standouts — many of which involved men, who had breakout years in the beauty world. The palette that James Charles, a 19-year-old beauty vlogger and recently-crowned People's Choice Award winner for best Beauty Influencer, launched in collaboration with Morphe sold out in less than 10 minutes. (Still, Charles says he has no plans to launch his own makeup line.)
Meanwhile, MAC Cosmetics "flipped" slowing sales to double-digit growth, thanks in part to a multi-collection collaboration with Patrick Starrr, who has more than four million subscribers on YouTube alone, placing him among the most-followed beauty vloggers on the platform. Another Star (one 'r'), Jeffree, managed to leverage his YouTube channel and eponymous cosmetics line to earn an estimated $18 million this year, making him the fifth-highest paid YouTuber — among all YouTubers, not just those in the beauty space — despite his many controversies.
Other high-profile beauty collabs and launches included: Desi Perkins and Katy DeGroot (aka LustreLux) with Dose of Colors; Perkins with Benefit Cosmetics; Camila Coehlo with Lancome; Jackie Aina with Too Faced; Nikkie de Jager (aka NikkieTutorials) with Ofra; Alissa Ashley with NYX Cosmetics; Jaclyn Hill with Morphe; Huda Kattan's Huda Beauty's Nudes Palette; and the Dominique Cosmetics Berries & Cream Palette by Christen Dominique
This is to say nothing of the celebrity-turned-influencer beauty deals à la KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, or Rihanna's explosive Fenty Beauty launch, but it's safe to say the line between who's an influencer and who's just a celebrity with a gigantic social media following is beginning to blur.
Influencer collaborations with fashion brands
In the fashion space, influencers are lending their names to commercial collections at department stores that they're also helping design. Chriselle Lim launched her first namesake fashion collection, The Chriselle Lim Collection, at Nordstrom this year, following the model that led to the mega-successful 2017 Something Navy x Treasure & Bond collaboration — which brought in $1 million in sales at Nordstrom in 24 hours. "We recognized the positive response from customers [to these collaborations] and were deliberate in seeking out similar collaborations with influencers our customers know and love," Tricia Smith, Nordstrom's EVP and GMM for Women's Apparel, told Fashionista earlier this year. The retailer also worked with Julia Engel of Gal Meets Glam and Blair Eadie of Atlantic-Pacific on collections this year.
Natalie Lim Suarez (aka Natalie Off Duty) launched the first two capsule collections for digital brand INSPR, followed by one by Brittany Xavier, sold online and at Macy's locations across the country. For its part, Macy's Vice President of Business Development Lauren Wilner says the collaboration brought customers to Macys.com and in-store, and that the company has plans for upcoming influencer collaborations.
Unsurprisingly, Revolve's year was packed with model-turned-influencer collections. In March, Olivia Culpo collaborated with Marled by Reunited for an exclusive Revolve capsule collection, and by August, model-influencer Yovanna Ventura released a collection she helped design for H:ours, one of 20 Revolve-owned brands.
While these influencer collaborations have proven to be lucrative for retailers, some of them have also proven to be controversial. Fashion watchdogs Diet Prada have called out a number of them for producing knockoffs, recently noting on Instagram how Mary Lawless Lee, aka Happily Grey's line with Aqua for Bloomingdale's included a piece that was nearly identical to a Maison Valentino dress.
Beauty YouTuber Jaclyn Hill launched a collaboration with eyewear brand Quay Australia (as did Desi Perkins), while Rocky Barnes was busy collaborating with Revolve-favorite brands Cleobella and Manebi. A number of smaller, though still popular influencers, got in on this hustle, as well: One of H&M's offshoot brands, /Nyden, hired 10 influencers — like Ashley Guyatt and Alyssa Coscarelli — to poll their followers for design preferences. Lucy Williams, who has nearly 400,000 followers on Instagram, collaborated with U.K.-based jewelry line Missoma; Julie Sariñana aka Sincerely Jules has a hair accessories deal with Target and Conair-owned Scünci; and influencer and stylist Aleali May has another upcoming Air Jordan design collaboration in the works.
Publishing deals, travel partnerships and beyond
Fashion and beauty deals merely skim the surface of the vast ocean of lifestyle influencer collaboration opportunities in 2018. Aside from product brand collaborations, influencers sold books (Caroline Vazzana published "Making It in Manhattan", and Aimee Song published her second title, "World of Style.") There was a curious headline about a supposed Camille Charrière documentary that's yet to surface widely, if at all, while Chiara Ferragni currently has a documentary crew filming her every move.
If you thought restorative or personal moments didn't come with their own deal potential, you'd be mistaken. Influencer vacations (see also: experiential marketing) were fair game for the never-ending content churn: Revolve took its influencers to Bermuda and Amangiri. (Amangani and, really, the entire Aman luxury group enjoyed a stellar year in influencer marketing, thanks to that Revolve trip and a PacSun — yes, really — campaign.) More recently, SemSem and its influencer crew checked into a lavish hotel in Abu Dhabi.
Influencer nuptials mean huge value for brands
Finally, the biggest influencer wedding this year (aside from Meghan Markle's) was that of Italian influencer Chiara Ferragni, whose nuptials were covered ad nauseum by Vogue and the rest of the digital fashion media space, and whose dress was more influential than the Duchess of Sussex's, earning Ferragni's dressmaker Dior $5.2 million in earned media value. Honorable mention goes to Rocky Barnes's September wedding and her pseudo-sponsored Pronovias dresses.
So, what of it all? The brand marketing and the vacation porn and the more-is-more endless expanse? What does it matter, and where do we go from here?
The answer, as it turns out, is deeper into digital influencer marketing with more to come in 2019, says Evy Wilkins, vice president of marketing for influencer marketing platform Traackr.
In Traackr's survey of 118 large organizations, The State of Influence 2.0, the firm found that 60 percent of respondents are planning to spend more on influencer marketing next year. Influencer collaborations and vacations will still happen; but, armed with better data about which influencers are most effective at, well, influencing purchases, brands will be more selective about with whom they're penning deals.
Made-for-Instagram moments like Sephora's "Sephoria" — which Wilkins referred to as the "Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory" of beauty events and which generated more than eight million video views and nearly three million engagements among 125 influencers on social media — are encouraging to companies wondering whether influencer marketing works.
And longer-term collaborations, like that between Nordstrom and Engel, are mutually beneficial, doubling mentions and creating brand engagement that lasts for more than one news cycle, Traackr found. It makes sense, given how heavily Nordstrom has invested in influencer marketing. Not only is the Seattle-based department store continuing its influencer labels and collaborations, but it's also highlighting dozens of influencers on its "Instalog," a blog-like section of its site that features Nordstrom products styled by influencers. It's also worth noting that Nordstrom's Anniversary Sale is basically the Super Bowl for influencers, adding to the mutually beneficial nature of these relationships.
"When you look at the exact numbers, it's pretty wild," says Wilkins, confident about the continued growth of influencer marketing and engagement. As Daniel Landver, CEO of Digital Brand Architects told Fashionista back in June: "I don't think we're going to call them influencer brands in the future — [they're] just going to be brands."
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