Social & Influencers

Why ‘surprise and delight’ doesn’t apply to influencer gifting anymore

How brands are addressing concerns around product seeding waste.
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Screenshots via @olivialmarcus/TikTok, @darcymcqueenyyy/TikTok

· 5 min read

When creator Olivia Marcus was surprised with a giant, lipstick-shaped PR package from MAC Cosmetics filled with confetti and 19 lipsticks, her reaction was not one of delight.

Instead of posting what the makeup brand may have hoped would be a fun unboxing video, Marcus instead posted about how “wasteful and gluttonous” unprompted influencer gifting can be, along with the annoyances of “glitter bombing.” (MAC did not respond to Marketing Brew’s requests for comment; Marcus declined to comment.)


Conversations around influencer gifting and wastefulness have been ongoing for years, but they have perhaps found even greater resonance at a time when people are being told to eat cereal for dinner and when “winter heat waves” are happening. Tarte recently received pushback for sending influencers products ahead of a paid brand trip, and earlier this year, one creator was criticized for a video showing her closet full of unopened packages.

Believe it or not, brands are also concerned about the costs and waste from sending products that don’t get posted or resonate with creators, Holly Jackson, global professional services director of influencer strategy and measurement at influencer marketing platform Traackr, said.

“It’s almost like the creators and the brands are questioning the strategy around product seeding and gifting that has been in play for years now…but from different angles,” she told Marketing Brew.

Think ahead

Emily Brown, senior manager of strategy at influencer marketing agency Billion Dollar Boy, told us that overall, influencer gifting has “gotten less popular, but more intentional,” which could end up being a good thing for everyone.

“The surprise and delight—I feel like most influencers are kind of over it,” she said.

Sending out PR packages en masse without checking with creators about whether they want to receive the gift is “on its way out” as a strategy with most brands, Jackson said. (That particular approach is what Marcus said was the case when MAC sent its package to her unprompted—and to an old address.)

At BDB, Brown said brands are advised against cold gifting and encouraged to “make sure that [creators] actually want whatever they’re being gifted.” For Heineken’s 150 campaign in Germany last summer, BDB reached out to creators and, after receiving approval, sent Tripp suitcases to 14 of them that featured removable stickers and recyclable packaging inside. The influencer campaign led to more than 2.2m organic impressions on Instagram for the brand.

“Make sure [when] you’re reaching out, if there’s any sizing or shade-matching or anything like that, you’re being very intentional,” Brown said.

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Reaching out to creators beforehand could come with benefits beyond limiting waste, helping brands form long-term relationships with creators and better understand the products they’re more likely to feature in content, Brown said.

Social listening and research on past creator content, as well as looking at data to see who’s mentioned the brand in other posts, can also help inform decisions around gifting, Jackson added.

Once brands and creators connect, Jackson advises keeping a feedback loop open. In the case of MAC, Jackson said if “their next set of packaging is all eco-friendly, recyclable materials, that could do a lot to repair that relationship with that creator”—both from an environmental perspective and to show that the brand is listening.

Think small

Cutting down on the quantity of products sent out can also potentially create an exclusivity effect.

“Poppi, the soda brand, did a really big campaign where they sent a lot of new Poppi flavors to certain influencers, and I saw other influencers making videos like, ‘I’m the biggest Poppi fan, and I didn’t get them,’” Brown said. “Intentionally gifting can create buzz around the brand that sending it to all influencers in the category might not.”

In other cases, personalizing gifts, while possibly more expensive, could lead to a higher payoff. “Sometimes creators will take a picture of the letter that came with a product and share that on social,” Jackson said. “That is always something that audiences are interested to see like, ‘How did this brand make a connection? Do they really care about this creator? Do they know what they talk about?’”

As Jackson pointed out with a recent Charlotte Tilbury creator photoshoot, brands can look to provide experiences rather than products—especially ones that help influencers do their jobs making content.

Whether that means sending a smartphone car attachment to a creator who films in their car, or the perfect shade of lipstick for a creator like Marcus, being intentional can lead to long-term payoff and, ideally, organic product appearances in videos months down the line, Brown said.

Cold-gifting and mass sends, on the other hand, could land a brand in the background—or foreground—of a TikTok, highlighting just how wasteful influencer marketing can be. As Brown put it, “You don’t want your big box of things…to be front and center in that type of video.”

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