Under the influence

Under the influence

Anna Whitehouse a.k.a Mother Pukka tells us her story of being an influencer and how best to co-create content campaigns.

Under the influence

I’m not sure what it is about the word ‘influencer’ that bothers me. It just feels a bit sinister; A little like the time I realised Google was selling me stuff they knew I wanted on little pop-up ads.  Google, you cruel mistress, I bought ALL the stuff. (Including a vintage Transformer off eBay). Perhaps ‘encourager’ works a little better, although that still feels a little Brownie Camp circa 1987. Either way, there’s no denying this newfound pixel-pusher has an ability to present your brand to an engaged target audience at the press of a button.

Having worked on both sides of the coin – purchaser of the influencer talent at Stylist Magazine and now purveyor of the supposed influence as Mother Pukka, I’ve seen what works, what doesn’t and what can leave you wondering if you are, in fact, under the influence.

The good

The best partnerships always start with a clear brief. It seems like an obvious point but the amount of times I’ve received a brief with one sentence telling me to flog something is on par with the number of times I’ve said ‘Put your shoes on’ to my 4-year-old. Dulux is a good example of a campaign we worked on where everything worked seamlessly from initial ‘we’d like to work with you’ to ‘we sold out of Midnight Dusk paint’.

The brief came in about a new YouTube tutorial they had launched to help parents create cool effects in their kid’s rooms. Firstly, this is a great takeaway for my whole audience. Even if they choose not to buy Dulux paint, the brand sentiment is strong for a company that gives away something useful for free. I then don’t have to sell, simply show the process of creating clouds on my daughter’s walls and mention the paint colours. (Another good example here is Fairy asking us to do a safety demonstration around dishwasher tablets – we were selling safety, which is again an easy sell. And that’s not forgetting the Renault Behind Car Doors campaign where the focus was on connecting with your family on car journeys). Secondly, we were commissioned to run a series of Dulux videos over a period of three months – covering our lounge, bathroom and the bedrooms. Instead of it being a one-off piece of content, my audience became more engaged with each post because there was consistency and genuine interest in how our renovation was coming along.

I think good partnerships always go beyond key messages; they think about giving something and in turn, they get a lot back. Sales of the paint used in our videos quadrupled overnight after upload and the whole process meant I didn’t feel like I’d slipped someone a Walls sausage in the name of influencing.

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The bad

‘Bad’ is a fairly extreme word, perhaps ‘awkward’ is more befitting. Every influencer has taken on a project that they feel uncomfortable uploading. Usually this is because the brand messages are set on loudspeaker and the reasons for partnering with that person have been entirely lost along the way.

And that’s a useful thing to remember – it’s a person not a publication you’re working with.

A pulse instead of simply paper or pixels. I’ve never gone into anything thinking it will be like flogging a little bit of my soul but sometimes when there is insistence from a client to shoe-horn every brand message into a 60-second video, you give in among the children’s needs for “a green spoon, NOT the pink spoon”. And that’s bad. For everyone.

In terms of feedback, a few followers found a one-off partnership we did with a major entertainment company to promote one of their films a huge turn off. I lost 147 followers when uploading that post (usually we lose between 12-25) and it had the lowest engagement of any brand partnerships we’ve done. I’d been asked by the brand to wear a branded bomber jacket in the image and, according to a few followers I engage with regularly, they felt: 1) I was literally selling myself by wearing branding – even though it was a beautiful item, it was still too close to the bone 2) The reviews for the film were awful – and even though I loved it – they felt I’d sold out.

You win some, you lose some.

The ugly

Perhaps the most challenging time I’ve faced on Instagram related to a union with Hello Magazine and Next. While this wasn’t a paid partnership, it was a collaboration for the magazine’s Star Mum Awards. I was on a judging panel with Kimberley Walsh, Binky Felstead, Izzy Judd and Kate Silverton and the aim was to judge/ celebrate mums. The image to promote the judging panel went up on both brand channels and within minutes, there was backlash from all corners of the Internet. 

The glaring lack of diversity aside, the concept of five white women judging other women to be a ‘Star Mum’ kick-started huge public outcry that ended up running in The Sun, The Mirror, The Daily Mail and The Telegraph.

I had no excuses and it was essential to acknowledge the mistake (from my side) and following Next’s apology, I posted on my Instagram account. This kick-started a 1,456-comment-strong thread bringing all brands into disrepute.

Since this collaboration, many brands have contacted me to say the whole discussion has made them sit up and ensure diversity and inclusion is intrinsic to their campaigns. It’s been eye-opening for many because prior to social media, it would have been harder to offer instant feedback to a piece of content that many felt wasn’t right on so many levels. Social media is just that – social. And social behaviour can be positive and negative. I believe the brands that will thrive in the current climate are those that can truly engage with those speaking to or criticising them. The days of the generic tone, ‘we regret our actions…’ needs to be replaced with something more human that doesn’t require ten sign-offs before being posted. An apology must be heartfelt and that’s the not-so ugly truth.


At MSL we have a dedicated influencer marketing team, please email Claire Hutchings for any influencer marketing needs. 

Looking for the right influencer for your brand? Read our influencer personas blog to gain some further insight.

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