Is Cristiano Ronaldo’s $1B Nike Contract Considered Influencer Marketing?

Cristiano Ronaldo Nike Contract Deal Influencer Marketing
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Understanding How Nike’s $1B Cristiano Ronaldo Deal & Marketing With Social Media Influencers Works

Soccer megastar Cristiano Ronaldo and sports apparel giant Nike are now bonded for life. Like basketball greats Lebron James and Michael Jordan, Ronaldo has recently become part of a select few athletes offered (and signed to) a lifetime Nike contract worth $1 billion.

Several outlets including Forbes, Business Insider, and The Street have noted Ronaldo’s impressive social media influence and reach as a top draw for Nike — even going as far to say that the soccer star’s combined social media following of 240M offers more value than Snapchat’s 158M daily active users (DAUs).

As social media and influencer marketing growth (chart below) have skyrocketed in recent years (e.g. Facebook commands nearly an hour average of its soon to be 2B users; YouTube users watch 1 billion hours of video each day), many marquee brands have doubled down on social media sponsorships involving individuals with a sizeable social audience (i.e. page likes, followers, subscribers).

Celebrities, Athletes, & Social Media Influencers: What’s The Difference?

While celebrities, athletes, and social media influencers (also known as or referred to by platform-specific monikers including Instagrammers, YouTubers, Snapchatters, etc.) may all have large social media followings, understanding how each acquired their audience (and engage with their followers) is important for brands and marketers especially when evaluating for effective partnerships and collaborations.

Typically, traditional celebrities (TV, movie, music) and athletes build their acclaim from the medium where they originated. Movie stars like Hugh Jackman or pop stars like Ariana Grande found success first and primarily through the big screen, TV, radio, or other non-social media means. As their popularity grew, audiences fond of their work would follow their favorite celebrities on social eager to see and follow their whereabouts.

In contrast, digital or social media influencers acquire their audiences distinctly and almost solely through social media use and engagement. Many of today’s top social influencers started blogging, vlogging, and/or posting on social media as a creative outlet (choosing to focus on specific interests, hobbies, or type of content genre) or personal form of expression but steadily built up their fans and followers over several years through:

  • Engaging content — the best influencers understand and craft great content (e.g. photos, videos, livestreams) that’s shareable, relevant, and captivating.
  • Recurring, consistent content — many of the best influencers have built a strong and loyal audience from daily or weekly content over years on end. With a consistent stream of quality content, influencer audiences have grown accustomed to “tuning in” to their favorite YouTuber or Instagrammer (akin to tuning in to watch your favorite celebrity or sports star, but oftentimes with real-time engagement and interaction from both the influencer herself and like-minded fans).
  • Engaging closely with audiences — the best influencers cultivate and incur high levels of engagement by making it a point to communicate (oftentimes 1:1) with their followers. As a result, 40% of Millennials say their favorite YouTuber “gets them” better than their own personal friends (Think With Google case study “Why YouTube Stars Are More Influential Than Traditional Celebrities“).

The lines between celebrities and social media influencers, however, are blurring. Many of yesterday’s top YouTubers previously unknown to audiences 30+ are now today’s biggest mainstream celebrities starring in major motion pictures, securing lucrative book, music, and TV deals, and boasting representation from top talent agencies previously only associated with Hollywood A-listers.

As audiences are increasingly shifting their attention, time spent, and habits towards digital (specifically online video, streaming, and social media platforms), brands, publishers, and celebrities alike are realizing the importance of owning a strong online presence (e.g. think Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Chrissy Teigen, and of course, Kim Kardashian).

Related Post: Brand Ambassadors vs. Celebrities vs. Influencers — Which Is Best?

What Is Influencer Marketing? How Does It Differ From Celebrity Endorsements?

Influencer marketing involves leveraging the reach, engagement, and trust of social media influencers to advertise or drive awareness for the sponsoring brand, product, or service. Influencer marketing is one of the top drivers of in-store purchases (especially when compared to marketing with celebrities) and is preferred by 70% of Millennials. Both Millennials and women are much less likely to trust celebrities instead preferring to learn and listen about new products and services from influencers. For many, influencers are much more relatable and therefore trustworthy and credible when compared to traditional celebrities.

While influencer marketing is not a new concept, its popularity and appeal among brands and advertisers have only recently come into prominence in the last few years — from the start of 2016 to present, influencer marketing search popularity has increased more than 60x (Google Trends).

Celebrity endorsements, ambassadors, and spokesmodels function primarily as brand associations and affiliations (oftentimes hired to highlight new products or offerings).

Related Post: Do Brands Prefer Digital Influencers Over Celebrities?

A Look At Cristiano Ronaldo’s Sponsored Instagram Posts

The reigning sports star celebrity of Instagram and Facebook, Ronaldo’s Nike contract ensures that the global athletic apparel brand has lifelong access to his 260M+ fans and followers across social (120M Facebook page likes, 93M Instagram followers, and 50M followers on Twitter). Forbes details Ronaldo’s Nike promotion:

Cristiano Ronaldo Nike Influencer Marketing

With the increase of brand-sponsored social media posts from both celebrities and influencers, the FTC has continually updated their guidelines for what constitutes as proper disclosure of sponsored social media advertisements. Since, both celebrities and influencers and their sponsoring brands (including Xbox, Warner Bros., and many others) have been scrutinized and brought to attention for inadequate disclosure for paid endorsements (see Variety’s “Kardashians In Trouble Over Paid Product Endorsements On Instagram“).


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A post shared by Cristiano Ronaldo (@cristiano) on


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Also See Our Posts On:

The 10 Best Snapchat Accounts To Follow: Sports Stars & Pro Athletes Edition

The 20 Biggest Soccer Stars To Follow On Instagram [Infographic]

5 Reasons Why Brand Influencers Are Better Than Celebrities

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