By Godwin Jaha Semunyu

Towards the end of last year, I was fortunate to attend and give keynote speeches to aspiring marketers and students from several colleges across the country. We touched base on several aspects of marketing, predominantly; the evolution of Marketing from art to science—data at the heart of marketing decisions.

One exciting topic took center stage; the growing trend of marketers' over-dependence on influencers and brand ambassadors to push the brand message.

I sensed remorse fear in their minds that the “influencers,” who are mainly banking only on their online popularity, were invading the marketing profession—crossing the lines.

What's the point of a college marketing degree when one can easily land a marketing role based on popularity? They probed me. As if I was a Sensei with all the answers.

Today, I choose to speak about marketing influencers. I am deliberately ignoring the crossing the line part. Because hiring a marketing influencer is a marketing decision.

The truth is, as an old-school marketer, sometimes I also struggle to come up with meaningful justifications to these particular investments. Factors such as the scandalous personal lives of influencers, lack of authenticity, and difficulties quantifying the investment return impeded my decisions.

The concept of influencer marketing and a brand ambassador; third-party people hired to promote brands to affect sales is not new. It is old as the marketing profession itself.


Michael Jordan, arguably the best human being to grace the basketball court, promoted everything from his own Air Jordans Gatorade drinks to fragrances.


Locally, the late Mzee Amri Athumani Majuto, alias King Majuto, probably the best comedian for generations, pushed everything from Komoa soaps to iodized salt to energy drinks and food products.

The apparent difference is; both Michael Jordan and the late King Majuto had outstanding careers; they were known for something. It is totally different now.


Thanks to the emergency of the internet and social media, now we have modern-day influencers who no longer need to be a celebrity or have known careers to be an influencer. One just needs to be "online famous."

One can be famous for being famous—the Kardashians family blueprint.

Nowadays, people with more social media followers (regardless of how they acquire them, they can be bought) have surged in online popularity. Put it this way; you can be a celebrity on Instagram or tweeter world regarding the number of followers.

The marketing world has embraced them too. Reports have shown that globally, brands are forecast to spend up to $15 billion on influencer marketing by 2023, with more brands projecting to spend up to ten percent of the marketing budget.

A Kardashian family sister Kylie Jenner, also famous for being famous, charges USD 986,000 (Close to TZS2Bn) per post, thanks to her 200 million global followers.

But is the strategy effective, is it sustainable? or is it another trendy thing?

When you become an influencer, you automatically become the face and voice of the brand. Whatever you say or do in public (sometimes in private with cameras), including your personal life, will be scrutinized along with the brand you promote.


Influencers ought to understand the brand’s values and target markets. They need to protect its public image. This is the biggest drawback of this strategy.


The influencers/ambassadors -brand relationship automatically assumes the inherent risk level. We all can recall the extreme and expensive damage control measures that brands embark on once influencers' private lives scandals hit the front pages—trying hard to cut ties and distance themselves. Most times a little too late.

On a similar note, online audiences have become smarter and more conscious of the promoted content. They look to engage with authentic people whose authentic recommendations they can trust. While marketers and influencers look at clicks, impressions, and conversions as benchmarks, customers look at authenticity and engagements as deal-breakers.

Lack of authenticity gives the impression that the product being pushed is not genuine. As a result, the brand suffers a backlash.

I have had so many encounters with local brand ambassadors, only to be disappointed with how little they know about the brands they promote. With this trend, businesses risk appearing mundane and unoriginal, forcing consumers to gravitate towards taking recommendations from people in their inner circles.


There is also the problem of alienating loyal customers who have different opinions about the influencer or ambassador. Influencers with strong political or religious affiliations can quickly alienate large segments of the target audience or disconnect your brand from a wider pool of customers, for good.

With the ever-shrinking marketing budgets, brands are looking for tactics that drive measurable and robust investment returns. Obviously, with the advancement of technology, the influencers are here to stay. But does their online popularity based on the number of followers necessarily affect buying decisions, it is debatable.

Brands need to develop various influencer marketing strategies that can be sustainable, authentic, and correspond to the brand’s tolerance to turbulences.

It could quickly go either way, viral and support sales, or lost and forgotten in the ocean of social media crises. 


The Godwin Semunyu is the Head of Marketing and Communication at Equity Bank(T). These are his personal views as a Marketing professional. He can be reached through:

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