It has been a year since social media went crazy after Nevada teen Carter Wilkerson tweeted at Wendy’s to ask how many retweets he would need to win a year’s worth of chicken nuggets.
Wilkerson wasn’t an influencer by any means, just a 16-year-old who happened to really like Wendy’s. But Wendy’s ran with it, promising to give Wilkerson his nuggets if his tweet received 18 million retweets. Wilkerson’s tweet racked up 3.4 million retweets, breaking the record Ellen DeGeneres set with her 2014 Oscars selfie. It proved to be fruitful in boosting engagement. In six weeks, after Wilkerson appeared multiple times on DeGeneres’ show, Wendy’s earned 2.5 billion media impressions and 5 million mentions of Wilkerson’s quest for nuggets, increasing overall mentions of Wendy’s by 376 percent, according to Wendy’s.
Although Wendy’s didn’t invent the idea of tapping what marketers cringingly refer to as “superfans,” #NuggsForCarter proved to be a case study in how effective using an average Joe can be, and influencer agencies say that since then, they’ve seen an increase in brands taking this approach.
This week, Universal Studios released a video, created entirely from fan-submitted re-creations of favorite scenes from the original “Jurassic Park” movie, to promote the upcoming “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” In March, Emerald Nuts made a user’s review on Amazon into a tagline for its latest ad campaign, and in October, shoe brand Saucony found a graphic designer who ordered 36 identical pairs of Saucony Jazz shoes because he loved them so much, tapping him for an Instagram takeover.
“When it comes to fans versus influencers, it’s the difference between renting someone else’s audience and building your own,” said James DeJulio, co-founder and president of Tongal, the creative network that worked with Universal Studios on the “Jurassic World” campaign. Tongal has also worked with fans of advertisers like Lego and National Geographic to create branded content on behalf of the brands in the past year. “At the end of the day, fans are always going to win, and more and more brands are starting to realize that. #NuggsforCarter was a perfect example,” DeJulio said.
Advertisers are also finding ways to tap into celebrities who are already knowledgable of their brands, hoping to see these stars post organically about them or to use these individuals in upcoming campaigns. In January, for instance, Groupon featured Tiffany Haddish in its Super Bowl spot after she mentioned she purchased a Groupon in an interview.
The agency RQ has helped advertisers like Pizza Hut, Samsung and Mini Cooper over the past year to find celebrities who have expressed how they like their products, either online or from in-person interviews. RQ doesn’t work with professional influencers, according to said Brian Salzman, CEO and founder of RQ.
Last month, the agency worked with Pizza Hut with a goal to “ignite the brand’s relevancy in pop culture,” said Salzman. Noticing that Jimmy Fallon had mentioned Pizza Hut in one of his opening dialogues during “The Tonight Show,” the agency sent Fallon and his staff boxes of Pizza Hut pizza as well as a members-only jacket. Fallon ended up sending a tweet thanking Pizza Hut for the pizza to his 51 million followers on Twitter and then posting to Instagram Stories about the jacket to his 11.3 million Instagram followers, without compensation from Pizza Hut.
Micah Donahue, head of brand engagement strategy at Mechanica, the agency that worked with Saucony, said a non-influencer can prompt an open and honest conversation that doesn’t necessarily happen with someone who is paid to post on a brand’s behalf, resulting in social feeds of random brand mentions. “A superfan will be a true collaborator on the creative that you’re producing because he or she will be invested in the brand more than somebody you might be casting for a spot or an influencer that you might be charging on a per-post basis,” he said.
For many brands, getting a fan on board for a campaign can be far less expensive than paying for a professional influencer. For Pizza Hut and Jimmy Fallon, all it took was spending about a hundred dollars on pizzas. However, that can even out when it comes to promoting the person selected.
“With a superfan, you will end up spending more promoting that fan collaboration, but with a celebrity influencer, you would just be spending more paying them personally,” said Donahue.
While these tactics might increase engagement, it’s unclear how they affect sales. Wendy’s said it doesn’t reveal sales stats, but overall, it’s difficult to gauge how effective any influencer campaign is when it comes to sales.
Salzman said RQ tracks offline sales by tallying the amount of direct messages the selected promoter receives from people asking where can they get the products. When it comes to return on investment, the value proposition goes beyond a one-off promotion with a typical influencer, he said.
“Using superfans elevates the ROI of all marketing initiatives,” said Salzman. “With a superfan, the content creation and conversation never stops because the brand is part of their lives.”