New Rules for Influencer Marketing


Keenan Harduth, CEO, Mirror Mirror Africa 

In April 2015 Nike launched a social media campaign as a conduit to get its plan to reach $11 billion in revenue from its women’s division by 2020 underway.  The company missed that ambitious target, but managed to grow the segment by 40 percent to become a regular $7 billion-per-year business since 2018 – even reaching that revenue mark during a Covid-affected 2020 that saw gyms closed and sporting events cancelled.

Like most businesses, Nike was not immune to a pandemic-related stall in activity caused by the global lockdown and that could make the 2019 $7.5 billion revenue seem like an outlier. If we pull social media data from that successful year, Nike was tagged over 1 292 times a month by influencers on Instagram.

Chief of the Portland brand’s reach building army is the darling of tennis, Naomi Osaka. Nike snatched 2019’s most marketable sports personality from Adidas when her contract was due for renewal at the close of a winning 2018 that brought the US and Australian Open trophies and the infamous showdown with longtime Nike athlete Serena Williams. 

When she penned her 2019 deal, Osaka wrote that “Nike has a legendary track record of writing history, and I look forward to being a part of those moments for many years to come.”

One of her first historic moments came at her successful US Open title defence in a tumultuous 2020. Each match was preceded by an Osaka entrance wearing a mask bearing the name of a martyr of the Black Lives Matter movement. Then came the 2021 French Open and Osaka’s withdrawal from the competition after being issued a hefty fine for not participating in press conferences for mental health reasons. Nike stuck with her through it all because of the commitment to making women feel seen, heard and respected. 

This case study is important given competitors challenging Nike’s dominance by building on strong influencer campaigns. Gymshark went straight to social media to build a billion-dollar brand and capture an impressive share of the hardcore female fitness market. Leggings alone are a billion-dollar business for premium tights players Nike and Lululemon, with the latter’s move into dominance in yoga and pilates apparel the biggest factor to Nike’s hard pivot to softening its brand.

A scroll through the @nike Instagram account shows the company embracing a wider variety of women body shapes and lending support to the social causes their athletes are getting behind. Reviewing the brand extension account, @nikerunning reveals a nano influencer campaign that represents an authentic female experience and spreads the reach of Nike’s running focus to niche interest groups.  

South Africa’s Caster Semenya has benefitted from this approach with a global groundswell of support propelling her ongoing case against World Athletics. Highlighting the gender classification practices the Olympic champion is being subjected to further entrenches the idea that the brand is not scared of standing up against injustice. 

If the challenges of 2020 taught brands and influencers one lesson, it’s that these platforms have the power to effect change and challenge stereotypes. The likes of Maps Maponyane and Siya Kolisi have also brought their star power and the mechanisms of their respective foundations to feed families in need, alongside the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The brands who associate with them also pulled together to help wherever they could.

The influencer marketing game has changed as the sector has matured and savvy consumers expect more creativity from the brands, both individual and professional, that they follow. Placing brands in the hands of individuals is a big risk, but the reward of welcoming new audiences outside of the assumed consumer profile is worth it.  


How do brands play by the new rules?

    • Let the storytellers tell your story. An influencer campaign is only as strong as the selection criteria. If you’ve gone through the effort of choosing the correct influencers, the content they create should speak for itself.
  • Have a clear strategy. Nike’s story is a prime example of committing to a strategy and the journey it takes to reach the end goal. The company wanted to be an ally to women and stand by their ambassadors through their growth and the challenges that come with it.
  • Your brand is a powerful tool. It can change lives when you empower people to use it. Solve a specific problem and use nano influencers to communicate those solutions, don’t simply sell a product to mass audiences.    



What’s the deal with the influencer game?

  • Be authentic. Your followers are interested in your unique perspective, it’s your super power and you should never betray it. Be real in everything.
  • Keep the partnerships organic. Evaluate every deal and see the value you can add to the conversation. Does the product have a place in your life? Does the brand align with your values?
  • Have a “why.” Your content should have a purpose and you should use your platform to get behind movements you believe in.  [ends]




Keenan Harduth is the founding CEO of Mirror Mirror Africa, an insights agency seeking to empower clients to make data-driven decisions through its mastery of industry-leading digital tools. Get crisis reporting, daily updates, weekly competitor reviews, campaign comparisons and comprehensive, KPI driven monthly reports from seasoned professional data analysts who love to solve problems. 

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