Last week I received an email from a PR company asking if I would like to receive a large box of gifted products from what happened to be one of my favourite skincare brands. Since I am already a fan, I said yes. What was most interesting about the email was this line written before the sign-off;
“Please note, to avoid wastage and to ensure we’re kind to the environment, we would only like to send this out to creators who are definitely interested in receiving and trying this bundle.” 

That same week I went for a glass of wine with a good friend who works for a big modelling agency. I asked about PR perks reminiscing my time at Vogue France in 2019 when we would raid the beauty cupboards of otherwise unwanted products. “No, that’s all stopped babe because of sustainability. Most brands only send products now once the model signs it off and then receives it at their home address – no more free eye cream for me!” While we shed a metaphorical tear for our lack of luxury gifts, we saw the bigger picture and discussed how impressive and progressive it is that brands are finally wanting to save on wasted packaging. 

Over the past year, many creators have called out brands that send product after product as wasteful. Over 60% of 300 marketers surveyed by influencer marketing platform Traackr reported that less than half of the creators they gifted products to actually posted about those products on social media. But despite these lacklustre results, 65% of marketers said they will continue to send gifts to an influencer who didn’t include those gifted products in their content. 

“Not only does this indicate that brands are wasting valuable time and money, it has major implications for the negative impact that product seeding campaigns can have on the environment,” the report states. Several now-deleted TikTok videos from the past year have shown people finding thousands of dollars worth of unused, gifted products thrown away by their influencer neighbours. And the ongoing de-influencing trend, which peaked earlier this year, has rekindled online conversations about the sustainability issues involved in influencer marketing, including excessive gifted products. 

Furthermore, the Traackr report found that 28% of marketers spend between $10,000 and $50,000 on product gifting campaigns each year, while 25% spend between $50,000 and $200,000. And about one in five marketers reported spending more than $200,000 in a single year on gifting products to influencers.

So why do they keep sending them? Well, in spite of influencers’ criticisms of gifting, and the very real possibility that the creators a brand sends its products to may not post about those gifts—or even use them at all—marketers still report seeing positive returns from product seeding campaigns. More than 90% of respondents said product gifting campaigns resulted in increased brand awareness, and three in four said these campaigns “at least somewhat” drove product sales. “While these types of campaigns may have begun as a top-of-funnel strategy, it’s now clear that they have the potential to impact all stages of the funnel,” the report states. 

Having said that, even when creators do feature gifted products from brands, they often do so in “PR Haul” videos, where an influencer displays a stack of packages they were gifted by a brand and only briefly displays each individual product. In these rapid-fire videos, it’s easy for a brand to get lost—and it’s impossible for the influencers who make these videos to use each and every product they receive due to the sheer volume of items they’re sent.

As a solution, like in the email sent to me above and the modelling agency my friend works at, brands should connect directly with those creators instead of blindly sending out identical PR boxes to dozens of influencers. Brands should ask influencers whether they actually would want a gifted product from the brand; and offer them the chance to choose which products they’d want to receive. 

Creators are also looking for a brand to connect with them prior to inundating them with gifted products, per the report. When a brand ensures an influencer truly wants to receive a product from them and allows them to customise their gifting experience, it boosts the likelihood that the creator will feature that gifted product in their content and promote it to their followers, rather than stowing it in the back of their closets or throwing it away entirely. 

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