Why the 2020 creator holds the marketing power in 2021 and beyond.

December 20, 2020

At D/A we’ve written more times than I’d care to mention about the power of true influence. Here, I’m not referring to the people who have some followers and go to a restaurant to write some (paid) reviews, or one week are selling me Tide Pods, the next telling me to go to the Sofitel for a weekend. That’s conflating influence with numbers.

The former is going to help me inform a decision, the latter is a way for a marketer to hit some sort of weird metric.

True Creators

What I’m talking about are true creators, those who have spent considerable time building fame through creativity; and then, cultivating a community around that fame. Whether their medium is music, film, photography, beauty or just having fun; the tenet is the same – create, engage and build. It takes hard work to get there, for a true creator.

And create, in 2020, the top creators did. In the GCC, just on Instagram, these staggering numbers are being driven by just the top 2,870 individuals as measured by Sila, D/A proprietary audience analysis tool.

Creator value and reach in 2020

That kind of power by reach, in 5 small countries, is something that old media has grappled with in recent times, and for good reason. The models are fundamentally shifting.

At D/A, we’ve trained Sila to spot a fraud a mile away, and to place influence in a true perspective, and to understand audience overlap. This helps us shape influence for our clients.

We’re a big fan at the office of the maxim, Talent is Universal, Opportunity is Not. Capitalisation intended. Why are we a fan of that? Because it’s 100% true – if I’m particularly good at sitting down (I am, by the way), it doesn’t mean I can make a living from it (although it may be argued, I am). Carving out a niche, getting fans and then building a credible influence is hard work.

It appears that hard work is paying off, in droves.

(A) death of the movie, music and influencer industries.

There were three pieces of global news recently that have set in play why I am writing this, they are (in no particular order):

  • Bob Dylan selling his back-catalogue, in its entirety, to Universal Music Group. Implication: there is a paradigm shift with how money can be made from music creative and larger funds are seeing this as a good source of recurring, profitable income;
  • Warner Brothers, announcing their biggest titles will be streaming at the same time as cinema releases (as well as another, mouse-related company). Implication: rather than a single box-office take, the revenues continue over time – value is being delivered in a much creative way on recurring revenues…disrupting Hollywood; and
  • Netflix teaming up with Headspace for a co-created content series. Implication: core creators (Andy!) are teaming up with new content providers to ensure originality is growing content and delivering new audiences to each other.

These are only three examples of very large movements whereby creators have disrupted a long-standing industry to deliver new value to brands in the shape of an audience. The audience is driving all of these deals, not the brands.

In advertising, an example could also be Travis Scott x McDonald’s is the perfect example of the audience being brought to a brand, not the other way around. The same can be said for David Dobrik’s puzzle – which is an amazing story of using a personal brand to engage millions (and make about 3.6 of those in dollar terms, too).

So are these seemingly large deals unrelated to the Middle East right? Not all – they will shape how our media organisations, advertising and brands will come together for the next decade.


Because the model of Product – Brand – Audience is reversed now. Before, we used to create a product, brand it up and then find an audience for it, often spending considerable sums to find that audience across many channels.

What about in the audience-first era of true influence? It’s reversed, and much more sustainable as a result. The audience gets built, a brand develops slowly around that offering (usually content) and then products come from that, like many of the collaborations we’ve seen in this article. It’s cyclical, and if done right, has no finite end point. Here’s how it works:

Audience first cycle

Why is the GCC next?

A healthy dose of skepticism is always good, but let’s take a look at the numbers in the GCC one more time in a different way:

  • $1.4bn in equivalent media value generated by the top creators on Instagram only;
  • 6.1 BILLION video views from only 2,869 creators on Instagram only.

While we don’t yet have the same creator landscape, largely due to insufficient regulatory support, we do have a creator network that exists and that is, fundamentally, creating its own major audience. That audience will form part of creator brands, and eventually products (whether its merchandise, or McDonald’s – it doesn’t matter).

While that audience belongs currently to a platform (or a few), being the social networks, there is a fundamental shift even that. We are seeing more community-based models becoming successful, while older bastions of media begin to look for excuses as to their decline.

What does 2021 hold?

We’re not into crystal ball gazing. What is clear from the data is that a fundamental shift in power is happening towards creating communities.

That’s a difficult proposition for a legacy brand (and by this I refer to every brand currently existing). Not everyone is interested in your Tide Pods enough to form a community around it. Maybe it’s not the product that they’re interested in but the solution. Tide Pods save time, make clothes clean, without a mess. Lots of hacks in life can also do similar things.

So instead of a questionable influencer submitting their children to the algorithm for the rest of their lives, build a community around that, and use true influence to grow the brand through collaboration.

Framing problems of the consumer has been the hallmark of advertising for a century. Problem. Solution. Resolution. P&G are the experts at this.

It’s just the medium, and what informs the medium, has changed. It’s not media, but creators. Not products, but audiences. Not spend but genuine care.

Will we see a collaboration like McDonald’s and Travis Scott? Or a deal like Headspace and Netflix? Not yet, but it’s coming, and when it does, the shift in how brands interact with their audiences will change forever – the question is, do we have the resolve as marketers to keep up?

This article was published by the CEO and Co-founder of Digital Ape, Paul Kelly, on LinkedIn.

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