Influencer Marketing: Celebrities vs. Social Influencers

Enjoy Digital
By Enjoy Digital
5 minutes to read

The concept of using influencers within the marketing industry is nothing new.

Whether we called them reps or celebrity endorsements, the appeal of yielding a public figure’s influence and converting it to sales has always been appealing to brands. But with the rise of social media and more advertising platforms than ever, the line between influencers and A-listers has blurred and they no longer command the advertising power they once did.

But why is this the case?

Where has this shift come from?

Let’s start by defining ‘influencer marketing’. Put simply, it’s using those with a large following to promote products and services in partnership with a brand. Where once it was actors, musicians and models we looked at in magazines and TV advertising, it’s now YouTubers, Instagrammers, bloggers and reality stars who brands are choosing to be the faces of their products. Where the original A-list endorsers sold us products based on their public personas, the new influx of social influencers are all about authenticity and products fitting in to everyday life. Well… that’s the theory anyway.

That being said, A-list partnerships with brands are far from extinct. Especially now some influencers command just as high a price tag as actors or musicians. Celebrity partnerships are not to be overlooked and still have a lot of value. They can boost earned media coverage, create a buzz about the brand and partnership, and can stay on brand message as opposed to their impromptu, and sometimes unreliable, influencer counterparts.

So why are brands leaning towards influencers?

Brands partner with influencers for several reasons. One is that they have a highly engaged following and an engaged following means active buyers. Something that an A-list endorsement in a magazine can’t contend with. This engaged audience is born from trust between the social influencer and their following. They are perceived as being ‘authentic’ and someone we can relate to, where an A-lister is playing a character. Social influencers are seen to be on equal footing with their audience.

But this authenticity has caused social media stars to gain huge followings and the wider media has paid attention.

Joe Sugg’s recent foray on Strictly Come Dancing is a prime example. The brother of Zoella (who could be considered to be the YouTuber who kicked off the trend), Joe has gained 8.2 million YouTube subscribers and has become a celebrity in his own right. Where once he was making videos we could relate to, he’s now appearing on strictly and has lost the perceived authenticity that made him so appealing.

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Trying the cheeseburger pizza from @dominos_uk with @bleustis, followed by a good ol’ pizza pun-off! #ad #merryCRUSTmas #OfficialFoodOf #MindBlown

A post shared by Joe (@joe_sugg) on Dec 21, 2018 at 10:00am PST

But as ever, marketing has found a way. Introducing, the ‘micro’ influencer – a direct result of the diminishing pool of big name social influencers who are yet to make a transition into TV, film, fashion or music. Micro influencers have a significantly smaller following of around 5,000 to 50,000 social followers. But they have higher engagement rates because of their niche focus and specific interests. They have replaced the big names to become the authenticity and inspiration that we crave.

And brands are putting this to good use. ASOS is a prime example of a brand investing in micro influencers to great effect. The online clothing retailer has teamed up with fashion enthusiasts, also known as ASOS Insiders, to promote its products in a natural way by posting outfits of the day, styling tips and plenty of selfies complete with product codes and tags. The Insiders are given new social handles that include the brand name so their followers immediately know exactly who it is they’re interacting with.

By picking out a handful of fashion and beauty experts, encouraging them to build an organic following and consistently post on a theme, ASOS is making its influencer marketing authentic and better for long-term engagement. Over the past few weeks, Reebok have also announced the launch of a similar in-house influencer team.

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new fave jeans @levis_uk 💘 🔎Levi’s Ribcage Straight Leg Jeans (1397884)

A post shared by Scarlett Betts (@asos_scarlett) on Jan 13, 2019 at 9:03am PST

The rise of influencers hasn’t gone unnoticed by celebrities. Will Smith who until very recently was inactive on social media, has been described as ‘The King of Instagram’ and earned 23 million followers in only eight months.

Sensing the opportunity, the Fresh Prince subsequently started a YouTube channel in January 2018 and has amassed 3.7 million subscribers. The channel features a variety of influencer style challenges, vlogs, and story sharing.

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Jada LOOOOVES Christmas!  I think she’s finally Rubbin’ Off on the rest of us. And this #Pixel3 got us lookin’ all Caramel Creamy! 😊  Merry Christmas Eve, Everybody!

A post shared by Will Smith (@willsmith) on Dec 24, 2018 at 4:42pm PST

However there’s a key difference between Will Smith and your average social media influencer; he has a production team behind every photo, video and, rumour has it, caption. His content can’t be perceived as ‘authentic’ because while it might be an access-all-areas style, it’s still not the everyday that he shows. Does that defeat the purpose of being a YouTuber and vlogger? At what point does an honest insight into his life stop and an all-out production begin? But because of this production, would product placement almost feel natural like it does in TV shows and films?

All in all, consumers are increasingly aware of marketing content targeting them every day and rely on building trust with brands in order to separate the quality from the crud. But ultimately, we still know when we’re being sold a message. Consumers are almost twice as likely to consider a product recommended from a friend rather than an influencer so brands have to question the value they get out of their budgets. One thing’s for certain, we’re looking forward to seeing how influencer marketing develops in the coming years.

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