Business Insider is recognizing the leading brands in the influencer-marketing industry, including SeatGeek, Sephora, and Chipotle.
In this power list, we are highlighting 17 brands based on which ones have the most innovative and effective influencer marketing campaigns.
These brands have built lasting partnerships with creators across YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and podcasting.
Over the past few years, brands have found success by relaxing their guidelines and having more fun with the influencers they hire to promote their products — allowing those creators to take creative control over the way sponsored content appears.
SeatGeek gives Dobrik the freedom to orchestrate a campaign and come up with the creative ideas behind a sponsorship. That has led to viral moments, like Dobrik buying cars for friends — from Teslas to Ferraris — with "SeatGeek money" in exchange for a 60-second shout-out on his YouTube channel. SeatGeek is like a character in Dobrik's popular vlog-style videos, which on average gain about 10 million views.
Innovative brands like SeatGeek (and creators like Dobrik) are pushing forward the influencer-marketing industry, which is projected to be worth up to $15 billion by 2022 and has become many top creators' main source of income.
Business Insider is recognizing the leading brands in influencer marketing based on which have the most innovative and effective campaigns. In this inaugural list, we are highlighting the top 17 brands that have built lasting partnerships with creators on social media.
The state of influencer marketing
An influencer marketing campaign is when a social-media influencer on a platform, such as YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and podcasting, promotes a brand or product in exchange for compensation.
The goal of a campaign can be to promote a new product, convert followers into paying customers, or create brand awareness. Influencers often interpret the brand theme and create content around that in the form of a dedicated video, post, or 30- to 60-second mention. Campaigns can be with a single influencer or up to hundreds, depending on the budget and goal.
Influencers charge set rates for a sponsorship deal based on their overall engagement. Creators sometimes work with a manager or agent to help them secure opportunities (managers and agents take about a 10 to 20% cut).
In a recent report, Izea, a company that connects marketers with influencers, found that the average cost of sponsored content on the top social-media platforms (Facebook, blogs, YouTube, and Instagram) has increased dramatically in the past few years.
In 2019, the average rate paid per sponsored Instagram post was about $1,643, and on YouTube, the average cost of a sponsored video was about $6,700, according to the report.
Sponsorships are still new to TikTok, and Cosette Rinab, a TikTok creator with 1.6 million followers, told Business Insider that the average rate for a sponsorship on TikTok was between $1,000 and $2,000 per 100,000 views, based on her experience and conversations with other creators.
Creators typically charge more for a yearlong campaign, which could include a mix of YouTube videos, Instagram posts, and other formats. One YouTube creator with about 2 million subscribers told Business Insider that he charged upward of $30,000 for such a campaign.
SeatGeek has built relationships with top internet stars like Dobrik, who has a yearlong contract with SeatGeek that has him promote the company every month in some capacity. SeatGeek began working with Dobrik in 2016 and has since worked with him on more than 20 campaigns.
Letting the influencers take creative control
"Influencer marketing works because audiences follow influencers," Evan Asano, the CEO and founder of the influencer-marketing agency Mediakix, said. "Because the influencers can speak directly to their audience, they build a level of trust you cannot get through standard advertising."
The best way for a brand to work with an influencer is to set out with a specific goal, expectation, and way to measure success, according to Asano. Brands should ask themselves: What audience do we want to reach, and how do we want to reach them?
From there, the brand should choose a platform and the size of influencers they want to work with.
"TikTok is trending like crazy right now but generally skewers younger," Asano said about the wildly popular app among Generation Z. "YouTube covers almost every demographic well, depending on the content."
To form this power list, Business Insider relied on a mix of our own reporting, nominations from readers, and industry experts to narrow down the finalists. We chose these brands based on factors like reach, effectiveness, and impact on the influencer business as a whole.
The top 17 brands are listed in alphabetical order below:
Audible, a seller and producer of spoken audio entertainment such as audiobooks, pioneered the YouTube influencer-marketing trend, first working with podcast influencers in 2006 and then YouTube creators in 2012.
Audible, which was founded in 1995, is owned by Amazon.
The company tracks the success of an influencer campaign by using a special code, according to John Harrobin, the chief marketing officer at Audible. Typically, the creators Audible works with promote the product in a timed integration and then ask their followers to click a link that directs them to the site or to text "[first name] to 500500." The company can then track that code to see how many purchasers the campaign drew.
Harrobin said the company didn't provide influencers with a "scripted read," instead trusting the creators to incorporate the promotion naturally.
"The creator has to use our product," he said. "They have to believe in our product and effectively be able to showcase how it fits into their daily life."
The makeup manufacturer Benefit Cosmetics has worked with top beauty and makeup influencers on YouTube and Instagram on sponsored content.
The company is known for having long-term relationships with the influencers it works with, like the beauty guru Patrick Starrr (4 million subscribers). Each year, the company sends influencers on paid-for trips to places like Hawaii.
Benefit uses these trips as way to build relationships with the social stars it works with, and it typically focuses a trip around a new product launch.
Benefit also has an affiliate program that lets influencers earn commission off the products they promote on social media. Creators can sign up online through Benefit's website directly.
In 2017, the company launched #benefitclubpink, which is similar to an affiliate program and for beauty influencers with between 10,000 and 100,000 followers on Instagram only. These creators often have "#benefitclubpink" in the bios of their Instagram pages, and their photos will sometimes appear on Benefit's main Instagram feed.
Casetify, which sells phone cases and covers, got its start by turning Instagram photos into phone cases.
Casetify cases have been spotted on the phones of social-media stars like Kylie Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and musician Dua Lipa – as well as other top YouTube and Instagram stars.
Often, the company will exchange products for posts. That includes celebrities who simply "slide into our DMs when they upgrade their phone size or see something on our feed that really catches their attention," the company said.
Casetify also has a brand-ambassador program that works with a group of influencers throughout the year who get compensated. The Casetify ambassador and YouTube star Chris Klemens (1 million subscribers) has a working relationship with the brand. He's constantly sharing new collections on his Instagram account.
Chipotle has worked with a variety of influencers across YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram.
In July, the company partnered with the YouTube star Brent Rivera (11 million subscribers) and the TikTok star Loren Gray (38 million followers) for a "guac song dance-off on TikTok."
The hashtag challenge — an official TikTok campaign in which a creator uses a specific hashtag for a sponsored video — was called #GuacDance. The campaign was centered on a song about guacamole from the children's music artist Dr. Jean. It went viral and became one of the most successful brand campaigns on TikTok.
Chipotle also had a long-term partnership with Dobrik in 2019. Dobrik has promoted the brand in numerous videos and posts — and Chipotle also temporarily sold a burrito in 2019 named after him.
The video-game company Electronic Arts (EA), behind popular games like "Apex Legends" and "Need for Speed: Heat," has collaborated with some of the internet's top creators, from Ninja to Dobrik, on sponsored content.
In November, EA released "Need for Speed: Heat," the latest game in the "Need for Speed" franchise. Ahead of the release, EA partnered with Dobrik for a sponsored video and social-media campaign to promote the game and app.
In his video, "Surprising Best Friend With Lamborghini!!," Dobrik promoted "Need for Speed: Heat" and encouraged his audience to download the Heat Studio app, design a car, and tweet him a screenshot of their designs with the hashtag #NFSHeatStudio.
Later in the video, EA and Dobrik gifted a brand-new Lamborghini Huracán to his friend and Vlog Squad member Heath Hussar.
"In less than 24 hours the Lamborghini gifting video received over 8 million views and hit the No. 1 trending spot on YouTube," Ricky Ray Butler, the CEO of the influencer-marketing agency BEN, said.
The campaign received 18.9 million views and over 3.3 million total engagements, Butler told Business Insider.
The online-retail brand Fashion Nova, which was founded in 2006, has been seen on YouTube creators like Tana Mongeau (5 million subscribers) and Jenner.
Fashion Nova works with creators on YouTube and Instagram as a way to build brand awareness and launch new products, which is especially important because the clothing is styled for Instagram, with unique pieces and sets that aren't necessarily for everyday wear. The brand typically sends creators items of clothing to promote on their pages in exchange for compensation.
The sponsorships are often try-on hauls, in which creators will show off the clothing items Fashion Nova sent them. Mongeau's try-on YouTube video, where she has her manager Jordan Worona pick out her outfits from Fashion Nova, has 2.6 million views and a link to the company's website.
After DIY slime took over social media, the craft-supply company Elmer's partnered with digital-content creators to complete "slime challenges" for marketing campaigns.
Slime, which is made by combining Elmer's glue, Borax, water, and food coloring, gained massive popularity online starting in 2017. In December, Elmer's partnered with Collins and Devan Key, two popular digital stars with 20 million subscribers on YouTube, on slime-challenge videos.
Elmer's has also partnered with digital creators like Brooklyn and Bailey (6.6 million subscribers) on back-to-school videos and giveaways.
Other campaigns with social stars include:
Drone Slime: Elmer's challenged the popular YouTube creator Unspeakable, with over 5 million subscribers, to see how far slime could be stretched using drones.
Paint by Slime: Elmer's challenged Moriah Elizabeth, a YouTube creator who prides herself on being creative and a little snarky, to create an 8-by-8-foot paint-by-numbers-inspired piece using over 50 gallons of slime.
Cement Mixer Slime: Elmer's challenged Life with Brothers, two sisters who are obsessed with making slime on YouTube, to use an industrial cement mixer to make over 300 gallons of slime.
The subscription-based meal-kit-delivery company HelloFresh, which was founded in 2011, has grown brand awareness online by collaborating with top creators on YouTube.
Typically, HelloFresh sends an influencer it is working with a weekly meal kit, and the creator includes footage of them cooking the kit and showcasing their meal in a timed integration.
Social-media influencers who work with HelloFresh on a sponsorship usually include a discount sign-up code for their followers to use in the description of a video or Instagram post as a way to draw them to sign up for a subscription. The code is usually the influencer's name, and it also serves a way for the brand to track how many purchasers the campaign had.
HelloFresh also works with food bloggers on Instagram, who showcase what the brand has to offer in its meal kits to followers, and they sometimes share their favorite HelloFresh meal.
Honey, a browser extension that finds and automatically applies discounts for products a consumer is purchasing, has appeared in YouTube videos from top creators like MrBeast (28.9 million subscribers) and Shane Dawson (23 million subscribers).
In a campaign, influencers — typically YouTube creators — mention the brand and show themselves purchasing items online and using Honey to save money during checkout.
The company has 17 million monthly active users and works with approximately 30,000 online retailers. In November, PayPal agreed to acquire Honey for approximately $4 billion.
The underwear, loungewear, and apparel company MeUndies was founded in 2011 and has leveraged social-media influencers on podcasts, YouTube, and Instagram to build brand awareness.
The company has used influencers to launch specific products. For example, it chose five influencers to help launch its Feel Free products last year.
MeUndies typically sends the influencers it is working with a specific product, and the influencer talks about the product they received in a timed integration for compensation.
Moose Toys, the Australian-owned toy design, development, and distribution company, disrupted the toy industry with its global phenomenon: Shopkins.
Shopkins are a variety of tiny collectible toys based on grocery-store items, each with a unique face and name.
Moose Toys has worked with various kids and family YouTube channels on campaigns, like Everleigh Rose (the daughter of Savannah Soutas, a popular social-media influencer). Everleigh is 7 years old and has 4.9 million followers on her Instagram page (run by her mom). In August, Everleigh promoted the brand on her Instagram page, tagging one of Moose Toys' brands, Kindi Kids. The photo has over 400,000 likes.
The skin-care line Olay, which is owned by Procter & Gamble, partnered last year with the YouTube star and late-night talk-show host Lilly Singh, who is its official spokesmodel.
The partnership serves as a way for the company to reach new audiences across digital media. Singh has 14.9 million subscribers on YouTube and a late-night show on NBC.
Singh previously promoted Olay in the company's #FaceAnything campaign in 2019. This year, she will appear in Olay's 2020 Super Bowl ad #MakeSpaceForWomen, alongside Taraji P. Henson, Katie Couric, Busy Philipps, and retired astronaut Nicole Stott.
The ticket-selling service SeatGeek focuses almost entirely on influencer marketing and social stars to help drive new purchasers to its product.
"I think a lot of brands make the mistake of sending over these incredibly complex and restrictive creative briefs," Borthwick, SeatGeek's director of influencer marketing, said. "Ultimately, those produce bad influencer marketing. It's important to take the back seat and let the influencer do what they do best."
The personal-care and beauty store Sephora works with a group of influencers each year as a way to promote the company's makeup and skin-care line Sephora Collection.
The company recently sent its influencers on a paid-for trip to Germany to learn about how makeup is made and test out products.
Sephora Collection works with college influencers like Margot Lee (400,000 subscribers) and Danielle Carolan (560,000 subscribers). These influencers are a part of Sephora's #SephoraSquad, a beauty-influencer program that includes a yearlong paid contract with Sephora, which includes free products, early access to products, and networking opportunities.
Skillshare is an online learning community for creators with 8 million members worldwide.
Skillshare has been working with influencers since 2016, spanning blogs, podcasts, Instagram, and YouTube.
In 2019, the company sponsored about 5,000 videos across 1,500-plus creators, Ethan Mantel, the influencer-marketing lead at Skillshare, said.
Its most wide-reaching sponsored video was one in 2017 from the science and engineering YouTuber Mark Rober that now has 48 million views.
The makeup company Tarte Cosmetics selects about 12 to 15 influencers on YouTube to work with every few months and sends them on paid-for vacations and trips to places like Bora Bora, French Polynesia, and Maldives.
On these trips, the company stocks its influencers with the brand's latest products, which helps with gaining overall exposure.
Tarte also has a commission-based affiliate program to which influencers can apply directly on the company's website.
The international toy and consumer-products company Zuru, which was founded in 2004, has partnered with kids and family channels on YouTube in brand campaigns as a way to promote the company's products.
Over the years, the company has sent toys to popular kids on YouTube who run "unboxing channels."
Zuru has worked with channels like Ryan's World (23 million subscribers) and sends him toys (and compensation) in exchange for promotion on his channel.
Ryan is an 8-year-old boy and the highest-earning YouTube star in the world. He makes $26 million a year reviewing toys, according to Forbes, mainly by partnering with brands like Zuru.
Zuru's toys include surprise eggs and mini eggs called "Rainbocorns" — a popular toy among children's YouTube channels and unboxing videos.