Celebrity endorsement has long been a popular brand marketing strategy, whereby celebrities or high-profile figures are paid to use their social status or fame, to help promote a product or service.
Marketers use celebrity endorsers in the hope that the consumers’ association between the celebrity and product will then influence their perception of the brand – and eventually their buying decision.
Celebrity marketing shift
In recent years, there has been a shift in the celebrity marketing landscape due, in part, to the explosion of social media platforms, such as YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, which has helped conceive a new generation of talent: social influencers.
Because of more people using social media, brands prefer this medium of communication to connect with their online community, advertise products and services and collaborate with social media personalities rather than using ‘traditional celebrities’.
In fact, in 2016, social media influencers were among the top celebrity endorsers for brands, with Hailey Baldwin – the American model and daughter of Stephen Baldwin – in first place, clearly highlighting the deterioration of ‘traditional celebrity’ endorsements.
Hailey’s huge online success – gaining her 9.2M followers on Instagram alone – has landed her numerous brand projects. An example of one such successful campaign, is her ongoing collaboration with Public Desire, a global footwear brand.
The Instagram video announcing the collaboration on her platform gained approximately 350,000 views, because of the star’s social media know-how, her community size and its relevance to the brand.
Social media influencers have played a role in changing the definition of a celebrity by somewhat blurring the lines, allowing ordinary people to find fame in increasingly diverse ways.
These social media personalities accumulate millions of followers, and receive high engagement on their posts, meaning that brands and agencies are naturally looking to online channels to find faces for their digital campaigns.
The most well-known example of a British influencer who shot to fame is Zoella. The YouTuber, who started her channel in 2009, now has over 10 million subscribers and is a UK household name, and has a growing international profile.
In 2014, Zoella caused a stir with her debut novel Girl Online, selling 78,109 copies in the first week and breaking the fastest-selling debut novelist record – despite people knowing she hadn’t even written the book herself. This outstanding achievement demonstrated the modern power of influence which, on this scale, had never existed before.
The power of authenticity
However, the question is, why are we witnessing this decline in traditional celebrity marketing? The first key factor is that, although ‘traditional celebrities’ such as Nicole Scherzinger or George Clooney possess a great amount of influence, they lack authenticity. Based on changing consumer behaviours, it’s clear that authenticity is a powerful tool. Today, consumers want to feel close to brands, as this helps enable trust.
In the past, the relationship between traditional celebrities and consumers could be compared to gods and mortals, with their lives seeming distant and unachievable. In contrast, the barrier today between consumers and modern celebrities has been broken down thanks to the golden age of social media.
George Clooney is a prime example of a ‘traditional celebrity’ involved in a long-term celebrity endorsement deal. His association with Nespresso is widely known, and the adverts, featuring his guest appearance, have been used in countries across the globe.
Today, having an authentic tone of voice on social media is key. As despite George Clooney having a large online fan base, he doesn’t possess the ability to communicate with his followers, this is because we know that the branded content he produces has undoubtedly been signed for large sums of money.
Keeping it relevant
Before the eruption of social media, a standard celebrity endorsement would involve a long-term collaboration full of lengthy conditions between the brand and high-profile figure. Nowadays, this arrangement has been facilitated with the rise of social media’s popularity.
The emergence of this ‘modern celebrity’, combined with changing consumer behaviours, means that brands and influencers have the capacity to be more flexible, by collaborating over short-term projects, strategically chosen by both parties to ensure relevance, which in turn leads to authenticity.
Long-term contracts, such as the lifetime endorsement deal which was signed in 2015 between Nike and NBA superstar LeBron James, are losing their legitimacy due to heavy financial backing – reported to have reached the value of 1 billion dollars.
Short-term project collaborations are a win-win for the brand, social personality and even the consumer due to lower risk, smaller costs and increased brand-to-consumer relevance.
Is there a future?
The future for celebrity endorsements is uncertain. As it stands, we can clearly see that this form of marketing has witnessed a decline in popularity among brands and agencies, which is likely to continue throughout 2017 as we see more social media influencers contending with traditional celebrities for endorsement opportunities.
A good example of a celebrity who has noticed this shift in the celebrity endorsement landscape is Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Having understood the concept of a ‘modern celebrity’, he successfully adapted himself to the social media environment and now communicates daily with 77.3M followers on Instagram alone.
However, we do know that authenticity and trust will be key, to prevent the total collapse of celebrity-led campaigns. Thus, it is likely that the industry will witness a change in traditional celebrities’ approach for collaborating with brands, especially considering the number of relevant collaborations will surely decrease as the level of competition on the celebrity endorsement market rises.
— By Hannah Goddard