With more influencers, more agencies, and the emergence of new trade bodies, influencer marketing in France is reaching a size and level of maturity akin to major markets like the UK.
Dominated by the introduction of laws aimed at curbing the industry’s worst practices, and defined by increasing recourse to data-driven campaigns, 2023 was notable for the hefty dose of professionalism injected into the industry.
France has seen high growth in both ad spending on influencer marketing and the number of KOLs entering the market. From 2022 to 2023, the number of KOLS with 5,000+ followers rose 9% to reach 62,516 on Instagram, and 27.2% to reach 184,162 on TikTok, according to Kolsquare data.
Ad spending on influencer marketing in France rose 15.2% year-over-year to reach €418.8m ($499m) in 2023, according to Statista. However, growth in ad spending on influencer marketing is expected to slow to 10.29% CAGR over the four years to 2027, when the market will reach €609.4m ($664.4m).
The rapid development of French influencer marketing means large sections of industry are wrestling with the challenges of a market in perpetual flux — a reality which is expected to continue in 2024.
Marketers and KOLs are set to become more selective about partnerships as they seek authenticity above all else. Co-collaboration on content and professionalism will drive up prices for the most sought after KOLs, while the UGC trend will drive competition amongst a growing pool of nano and micro influencers as brands and agencies chase performance with influence + paid strategies.
“The French influencer marketing industry has not yet reached full maturity, it’s entering its adolescence but is not yet an adult,” comments Kolsquare founder and CEO Quentin Bordage. “Companies are still structuring themselves. Some oscillate between investing a lot or a little, between internalizing and externalizing their activities.”
- Growth to continue, but at a slower rate as the market consolidates;
- Responsible Influence will continue dominate as the government embarks on rewriting the law of June 9, 2023;
- Authenticity set to be the absolute priority, forcing brands and KOLs to be more selective about partnerships;
- Selectivity and growing professionalism will create a tougher environment for KOLs, leading to a rationalization of the pool.
Mixed impact from the influencer marketing law as stakeholders demand more clarity
A pioneer of Responsible Influence, France became Europe’s first major market to legislate a dedicated law for influencer marketing in 2023. Amongst its key pillars were compulsory labeling requirements for sponsored content and a legal definition of “commercial influencer”.
But while the intention behind the law was broadly welcomed, its implementation has been heavily criticized for a lack of clarity at the operational level.
Among key areas of concern: thresholds for gifting disclosure requirements, unclear fiscal and contractual obligations, and the complexity of regulating French influencers operating outside France.
The debate around the influencer marketing law led to the creation of a dedicated industry trade body to represent all stakeholders, including tech players like Kolsquare.
The Union des Métiers d’Influence et des Créateurs (Union for Influence Professionals and Content Creators, UMICC) is an active participant in discussions about modifications to the law that will be developed and implemented in 2024.
“We see [the process to modify the law] as a further opportunity to promote measures to harmonize practices and develop a more ethical and responsible industry,” UMICC told members in a statement.
To date, the new law has delivered a significant dividend for transparency in France. According to Kolsquare data, the number of Instagram accounts labeling sponsored posts rose 52% year-on-year, from 2,739 accounts in Q3 2022, to 4,172 accounts in Q3 2023. The incidence of labeled posts rose 180% from 12,284 to 34,350 posts during the same period.
But there has also been consistent grumbling from KOLs that labeling posts has scared-off audiences and led to declines in performance.
Agence Wellcom Consulting Director in charge of Influence Strategies Charlotte Caron says the public debate around the law served to educate all stakeholders — but especially audiences — about how the industry works, issues of transparency and authenticity, and the consequences of irresponsible practices.
“It’s too early to say if there has been a decline in performance [due to the impact of the law]. The platforms all say that is not the case. At any rate, engagement has been declining for several years due to several different factors. However studies show that authenticity and transparency create confidence, so the new law is bound to have a positive long-term impact,” comments Caron.
“Any change causes a few upheavals [...] the point is that creators must also educate their audiences if they want to take advantage of the new environment. Some of them did just that, opening discussions with their communities early in the year and well before the law was passed.”
Rough seas on the horizon for influencer agents and agencies
The boom in influencer marketing that began during the pandemic triggered the growth of dedicated influence agencies and agents, and encouraged established PR and communications agencies to create influencer marketing services.
Over the past five years, the number of advertising agencies in France grew 0.5% year-on-year, to reach 17,618 advertising agencies and a market size of €11.7bn in 2023
But as in the UK, many expect the evolving landscape to drive consolidation in the agency sector.
“We’re moving towards professionalization of all roles and all players in the sector, and also a rationalization of agencies,” comments brand content and influence agency Mums2Gather founder Christel Niquille.
“There are a plethora of agencies and [influencer] agents, and now we are moving towards a much higher level of expertise, which is great. There is a lot of skill required to be able to guide both the existing and emerging influencers, but also the brands.”
As brands waver between internalization and externalization of influencer marketing, or indeed a mix of both, budgets are being squeezed and competition amongst agencies for clients is rising.
That said, there is an opportunity for agencies in the growing recognition that influencer marketing in France has evolved from being a ‘nice-to-have’ into an essential pillar of the overall marketing mix.
“Our goal is to reach different audiences, and that means integrated strategies that combine all methods of communication. Influencer marketing is an essential pillar of these strategies,” comments Wellcom’s Caron. “Some agencies have different teams for media relations and for influence. For our clients, the same team runs both.”
Indeed, as the social media landscape has evolved, platforms like Twitch and YouTube, and audio formats like podcasts have enabled influencers to broaden their reach and impact outside social media channels.
Creators to feel the heat as brands and audiences demand total authenticity
Gone are the days of free gifts and easy money for Stories; 2024 is going to be a tough year for creators.
“The algorithms are constantly evolving. There are more and more creators on the platforms, and the more creators there are, the harder it is to stand out. Especially when you see the majority of creators doing the same thing,” comments creator agency BTS Agence founder and CEO Mathieu Bonafé.
Audience expectations of influencers are being shaped by widespread attention on two fronts. The first is the worst behaviors of influencers exposed by the public debate, which has led to greater demands for transparency and authenticity.
The second is the roaring success of YouTubers like Squeezie, Léna Situations and Hugo Decrypte, whose content is lauded as genuine and original, and who have successfully migrated their social media personas into the mainstream via innovative formats.
Add increased awareness of the impact of social media on mental health and rising sensitivity about climate change, and run-of-the-mill French creators find themselves in the eye of a perfect storm of (almost) unattainable expectations.
“The demands of the community are completely legitimate because there have been too many problems, scams etc. They need sincerity and truth,” comments Bonafé.
“Creators are obliged to make more content which is less commercial. It’s a paradox because commercial collaborations have never seen as big a success and as big a development.”
The upshot is brands and agencies are scrutinizing the minutiae of who creators are, their values and how many brands they’re partnering with.
Use of tools like Kolsquare is rising rapidly (globally, 60% of companies used third-party platforms for influencer marketing in 2023, up from 44% in 2022), as brands and agencies focus on ensuring values align and any potential for bad buzz is eliminated.
From content creation to co-collaboration
While higher expectations will push some KOLs out of the game, the changing attitudes also present opportunities for those willing to do it right. Big brands especially, will be offering qualitative deals that provide a greater level of stability for KOLs over the long term.
“We only want to work with people who authentically like our products, who like wearing Fusalp and are attached to the brand,” comments luxury fashion-tech brand Fusalp Head of PR and Social Media Justine Provent. “We only want to work with them long-term and have relationships that we build over time, to create a story and give sense to the relationship that we have with our influencers.”
Increased transparency will also force influencers to be more selective, with audiences more receptive to repeated messages about one brand than they are to numerous messages about different brands and products.
This will challenge brands to be more creative and to further personalize their approach to influencer marketing. The more selective content creators are, the harder brands will have to work to catch their attention.
Bringing influencers further into the fold means imbibing them with brand history and values, and will drive closer relationships on content collaboration. It is not a question of influencers relinquishing control of content creation, rather that co-creation will see creators and brands work in lock-step to create authentic content that resonates for both parties.
"Dialogue and exchange between all players in the sector was a key element in the discussions surrounding the new law," comments Wellcom’s Charlotte Caron. "Today, the notion of co-responsibility enshrined in the law will further encourage collaboration and co-creation between all parties involved in a campaign."
In 2024, successful influencer marketers and KOLs in France’s burgeoning and fast-moving industry will be those who are agile, innovative and professional. There will be no mercy for those who fail to recognise that the old ways of doing things are over.
2024 will see the industry undergo a readjustment as stakeholders are challenged to deliver authentic, impactful campaigns in a more complex environment.
Are you up for the challenge?