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Influencer Marketing Goes Terribly Wrong 

Adidas, Balenciaga, and Gap ended lucrative relationships with Ye (aka Kanye West) after the rapper’s recent series of antisemitic and anti-Black statements. Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute says these incidents should spark conversations about mental health, antiracism, and other issues. But brands should also take it as a reminder of two important marketing lessons.   

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Aired: October 28, 2022 

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Hello there, and welcome. Well, this week brought us – yet again – a cautionary tale in the world of content and influencer marketing. Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) was dropped by Gap, Balenciaga, and Adidas after his awful comments made the price of partnership just too high for these brands. What can we marketers learn from all this? This is the news you need to lead in content marketing. 

Hello everybody, Robert Rose here with the news. It’s what’s new, but – more importantly –what’s important in the world of content marketing. (For the best in best practices, you can always go to 

So, this week brought the news that Kanye West, the rapper now known as Ye, would be dropped from several of the brands with which he has an influencer marketing and product relationship. 

Luxury brand Balenciaga, Gap, and Adidas all announced that they would sever ties with the artist based on a number of recent actions and comments Ye has made. 

These recent comments and actions range from wearing and having models wear “white lives matter” t-shirts at a Paris runway show to most making antisemitic comments.   

The artist was de-platformed by Twitter and Instagram shortly following those comments. And this week, CAA – his agents – and the brands in question have dropped their relationship with him.  

There’s been some pushback from the public, with some critics saying it took too long for these brands to take action. While that’s an interesting discussion, what’s of bigger consequence to the brand – especially Adidas – is the implications of cutting ties with the artist. 

Arguably Adidas’ relationship with Ye has always been one built on tension. The artist fairly commonly complains that Adidas executives steal his ideas. Even before the antisemitic remarks, Adidas had said that its relationship with Ye was “under review.” 

According to Bloomberg, the Yeezy line contributes between 5% and 8% of Adidas group revenues. 

That’s a lot. So, while the decision to cut ties is absolutely clear, you can see why it didn’t come easy.  

What’s our take at CMI? 

Well, there’s absolutely no doubt that there are many deeper conversations to be had here about all kinds of things – mental health, racism, antisemitism, and brand ties to controversial celebrities.  

But two other things interest as lessons for marketers. The first is the allure of outrage marketing, which has become more popular over the last few years. The basic idea behind outrage marketing is that even negative publicity somehow translates to good marketing reach. This is a flawed idea – but it certainly hasn’t stopped companies from doing it in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. 

There are varying degrees, and what Kanye did here is arguably a huge escalation of this kind of strategy. But we can look at smaller – or somewhat less vitriolic – versions of this as well.  

For example, last year, Burger King tweeted out “Women belong in the kitchen” – on International Women’s Day – to build interest (and clicks) to the follow-up message, which noted the lack of female chefs in the restaurant business. The tweet served as a promotion of an initiative to launch a scholarship program for women chefs. 

Spoiler alert: it didn’t work out that well for Burger King. 

Related: About That Burger King Tweet … and More Helpful Content Marketing Lessons 

The other insight I think we can be reminded of here is that when you engage with influencers – such as an artist, a thought leader, or some other subject matter expert – you are not only partnering with their work. You’re also partnering with the way that they market themselves. 

When you engage influencers, you’re not only partnering with their work. You’re signing on to how they market themselves, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

In other words, in much the same way that a great content marketing program can be ruined by a pushy, overt, or generally bad sales program (and vice versa), your marketing can be directly affected by the marketing approach taken by the influencers. 

This incident is a reminder that as you utilize Influencers to help tell your story, you have to remember that they are often telling a completely separate story to further their strategy.  

If their story becomes bigger than yours, it can start to spoil everything you’ve built. So, in auditing your own brand and content – make sure to continue to do our due diligence and audit the influencers you ally with as well. 

And that’s it. That’s five minutes of news you can use to lead in content marketing. I’m Robert Rose. Remember, it’s your story. Make sure you (and your influencers) tell it well.  

 I’ll see you next week. 

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