The future of influencer marketing? Dynamic deepfake ads.

This guest post is written by Simon Lejeune, the Head of User Acquisition at Hopper.

Influencer marketing moves fast, and it’s hard to keep up with new innovations. New Brand Collaboration tools, revenue share deals, swipe-up tracking links, paying in-kind or with Venmo, content licensing, merchandising, etc. There are dozens of ways to partner with influencers and to measure their performance for your brand.

The landscape changes quickly, too, with creators amassing millions of followers overnight and new networks and niches popping up all the time. This fast-paced environment creates low-price opportunities for the first moving brands.

Influencers & creators are critical to the growth of ad-funded platforms.

Regular people share less on public social media. Online social interactions now mostly happen in private messaging. But there’s no clear monetization strategy yet for chat apps. Social media companies have to invest in news, viral content, and live streaming to keep capturing valuable attention.

Network effects used to be the moat of social media apps. Increasingly, the key to keeping users scrolling is to attract creators to the platform. Facebook, Google (YouTube), TikTok, and Snapchat are all making moves in that direction. If Facebook or Snapchat paid $100,000 to the top 100 TikTokkers to exclusively share content on Instagram or Snap for a year, that would be a solid $10M investment.

A recent example was Corinna Kopf, one of the most popular Fortnite streamers, moving from Twitch to stream exclusively on Facebook. The streaming war for TV content is already intense; the one for social media creators might become even messier!

Influencer ads at scale perform better than brand content.

Influencer marketing, as a user acquisition channel, is painful to scale. One or two people can deploy $1M in Facebook ads every month, from end to end. But signing $1M in influencer deals, monitoring the campaigns, and tracking their performance is a nightmare. Working with nano-influencers is a waste of time; spending big on a handful of celebrities is risky.

One way out is to run influencer ads. Paying for Instagram Stories that stay up for 24h on the influencer’s profile and are viewed by 10% of their followers is not very effective.

But use the video as an Instagram Story ad, spend $250k on carefully targeted audiences, with a 25% boost in ROI compared to your regular creatives, and it gets interesting.

Ads on social media don’t add value and feel like an interruption, like TV ads. But influencer ads are closer to the content that users are already watching, and as a result, engagement is higher.

The simple reason influencer ads perform better than normal ads is that they don’t look like ads at all.

The quality of influencer traffic can vary a lot but tends to normalize with a broad portfolio of influencers. One way of doing influencer ads is to get access to the video content (with licensing rights) and use it as an ad creative from your brand account.

Facebook has also allowed advertisers to directly spend ad money via the influencer’s account, basically boosting their posts. The next step in that direction would be for brands to boost an influencer’s publication, and the post doesn’t have to appear on the influencer’s public profile anymore!

You might not get an initial boost by reaching the influencer’s followers, but you can still target any audience and for as long as you want. For influencers, it’s a game-changer, since some of them are starting to reach saturation themselves and don’t want to look like sellouts. 

Could Facebook cut a $1B yearly check to influencers?

These new ways to partner are bringing influencers closer to the ad money and the value they create. If the performance of influencer ads is better than regular ads, and Facebook can command a higher CPM for those, Facebook could share some of that extra revenue.

If the increase in ROI for brands was 20%, Facebook could charge 20% more for the same inventory. Let’s say 20% of all Facebook ads become influencer ads, and Facebook shares half of that extra revenue, that would be a payout of $70B*20%*20%*50% = $1.4B for creators every year.

No more sketchy Venmo payments — the influencer’s price could be negotiated directly on Facebook or baked into the CPM. Creators and influencers would flock back to Facebook and Instagram, as the revenue potential would be much higher than on TikTok and other new networks.

Interestingly, Facebook’s narrative arc is now getting closer and closer to YouTube or even Netflix, where content is what matters the most, and tech becomes secondary.

The intersection of the influencer ads and automation trends

Another important trend in social is dynamic creatives and automation. Dynamic campaigns are micro-targeted ads at scale, with the delivery, targeting, and optimization controlled by the ad platform.

Advertisers can upload a massive catalog of products and a few creative templates and Facebook, Google, Snapchat, Pinterest, et al then run millions of different ads. The product is targeted at a user based on their web and mobile browsing, social media activity, offline data, etc. Most of the optimization is a black box managed by Google and Facebook machine-learning algorithms. There’s not a lot you can do as a marketer. 

Performance marketers are like plumbers, making sure the ROI and LTV data flows to the algorithms, and that your catalog is up to date with the correct pricing and real-time availability.

In the long term, it levels the playing field and protects from some targeting abuses. It becomes a battle of the better business models, but it allows Google and Facebook to extract most of the margins.

Influencer ads currently don’t fit with this trend. You could run 50 or 100 influencer ads, targeted at different audiences and with a few variations for each, but not 10,000.

The next frontier at the intersection of these two trends could be dynamic voiceover and deepfake videos.

Text-to-speech has been around for a while. It’s already relatively easy to integrate your product catalog, using the Google Cloud API to generate dynamic voiceover on ads.

About 55% of users browse Facebook with sound on, and even more in Stories. But text-to-speech mechanics, even the most advanced ones from Google, still feels very robotic.

A few small companies are showing very exciting progress in this area. One of them is Lyrebird, from Montreal, who was recently acquired by Descript. They can clone any voice if you send them a few minutes of it reading something, then make it say whatever you want.

Deepfake video is another area progressing very fast. It’s now possible to upload any face to an existing video or do small lip-sync modifications to someone reading your ad copy. The quality is very close to being acceptable for Facebook ads.

Imagine a new kind of influencer deal, where you ask for a sample of 15 minutes of their voice and a few video shots. Using that, you could create thousands of hyper-targeted ads using the same influencer video. Zalando already did something similar with Cara Delevigne, but they made her read out loud thousands of city names in Europe, one by one.

In a few years, celebrities won’t have to go on set to shoot ads; they’ll just lease their face and their voices to the brands and agencies.

What to do today as a performance marketer?

Dedicate more time to influencers than their current budget share. Spend some money and find what works for your brand. Try to be efficient with the audience and deal sizes (not too small, not too large). License the content that’s shot by influencers and use it as creatives. Don’t assume anything; the weirdest and goofiest videos will work better, so embrace the randomness. Reach out to authors of already viral tweets and TikToks to ask if you can use the content in your ads.

User acquisition on Facebook and Google is becoming more automated, commoditized, and boring. Dynamic and Universal App Campaigns remove a lot of the fun and creativity out of digital marketing. They also lead to local maxima where marketers are stuck in an endless loop of swapping taglines and banner ads, waiting for the algorithm’s feedback: Good, Best, Low, Still Learning, …

Influencer marketing, on the other hand, opens up a whole new field of exciting possibilities.

Simon Lejeune is the Head of User Acquisition at Hopper, the most downloaded flights & hotels booking app in North America.

Photo by Phillip Glickman on Unsplash