Brands are always looking for ways to situate themselves at the forefront of consumers’ minds. In all of the forms of advertising aimed at this end, one of the most coveted is the celebrity endorsement. Often constructed as a personal testimonial, celebrity endorsements are when an actor, musician, athlete or other pop culture figure promotes a business’s products, services, or brand.
Late last decade, a new kind of testimonial began to emerge across a variety of social spaces. Known as influencer marketing, the advertising model takes a page out of the celebrity endorsement playbook, using popular online and social media personalities to promote commodities and messages for businesses. However, instead of “household names,” influencer marketing leverages the power and reach of online stars (“YouTubers,” “Instagrammers,” bloggers, etc.). More generally referred to as social media influencers, these personalities are often followed for their prowess and expertise in specific categories.
As consumers continue to spend more time on social media, considering whether a brand can best reach its audience through traditional celebrity endorsements or social influencers becomes a worthwhile exercise. Below, we’ll look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of influencer marketing vs. celebrity endorsements to help determine appropriate use cases.
Power – The cult of celebrity is a cultural phenomenon dating back millennia. Whether adored for physical attributes, wealth, or skills in a particular discipline i.e. acting, music, athletics, etc., celebrities are individuals who have ascended to the upper echelon of society.
The hierarchy affords the star many benefits, but the one most interesting to businesses is the celebrity’s sphere of influence. With massive visibility and a pre-existing audience, celebrity endorsements have been shown to produce positive results for many brands over the years.
Broad Appeal – Due to their recognizable face, name, and/or “likeness,” celebrities are able to reach large and diverse audiences. Additionally, some celebrities garner international appeal, allowing them to travel well as marketing agents for brands.
Moreover, with the success and growth of influencer marketing over the years, celebrity endorsements are no longer constrained to traditional forms of advertising like radio, television, and magazine ads. Now appearing in consumers’ online lives to promote products and services, celebrities are seen across all digital spaces.
Cost – For many brands, the price tag of a single celebrity endorsement isn’t just cost prohibitive, it can dwarf their yearly marketing budget. Besides the enormous price of the celebrity themselves, there are often additional fees for lawyers, agents, managers, PR personnel, and other members of the celebrity’s team.
High risk – Celebrity endorsements can be a huge gamble for businesses. Pitfalls may include brand and celebrity mismatches, a campaign that feels too broad or disingenuous, as well as celebrity scandals and misbehavior.
Furthermore, because brands can’t A/B test celebrity endorsements like influencer marketing campaigns, knowing whether a message is successful might not be apparent until budgets are completely exhausted. For a fraction of the cost of a major celebrity endorsement, a multi-influencer campaign can be launched to target specific interests and demographics, while also being tracked and optimized simultaneously.
Targeted – Built into the fabric of social networks, influencer marketing has the ability to target specific online audiences. Followed for their adeptness in a specific area, some of the most popular influencers occupy commerce-rich categories such as fashion, lifestyle, travel, cooking, and fitness. These categories can also be broken down further by filtering for demographics, location, and other preferred audience attributes.
In line with that level of specificity, perhaps the most valuable aspect of influencer marketing is the kind of relationships influencers have with their followers. Many influencers engage their audience directly — asking questions, soliciting opinions — as well as replying to their comments and messages personally. These relationships are at the heart of influencer marketing and have been shown to influence consumer behavior.
Creators – Influencers aren’t just online personalities, they’re creatives who know how to produce compelling content for their audiences. Enlisting the services of an influencer removes the creation burden for a brand and simplifies the overall execution of a campaign.
Influencers are experienced with integrating brand messages into their own content and the creative freedom afforded them makes their posts feel natural and authentic. In contrast, celebrities require brands to conceptualize, pitch, produce, and do the majority of the heavy lifting for a marketing campaign. This can cause celebrity endorsement campaigns to fall short of achieving personalization or cohesiveness.
Young Industry – The influencer marketing industry is relatively new, so many processes have yet to be optimized. While brands have seen tremendous results with influencers, marketers are still fine-tuning strategies in the quickly-evolving space. Still, the fact that influencer marketing has yet to realize its potential is an exciting indicator for the industry’s future.
Influencer Selection – While finding a celebrity to front a campaign might involve identifying stars with the largest pop culture footprint, finding the right social media influencer requires more nuanced knowledge and expertise. In fact, the right influencer for a particular campaign is often outside of a brand’s periphery.
Businesses looking to conduct talent and creator searches on their own will have to invest time in researching, vetting, and communicating. Alternatively, brands may choose to partner with a well-established influencer marketing agency that can provide custom campaign services to best promote messages and drive results.
Related Post: How Does An Influencer Marketing Agency Work?
Celebrity endorsements and influencer marketing both leverage the power of pop culture personalities. However, with their mainstream appeal, celebrity endorsements are usually intended to reach as broad an audience as possible. On the other hand, influencer marketing can be used for both targeted marketing strategies and broad branding appeal.
Moreover, the costs associated with the two forms of outreach are proportional, with celebrity endorsements typically requiring a much higher investment than a relationship with an influencer. Comparatively, influencers give brands greater flexibility to experiment with a package of multiple influencers, diversifying their campaign and minimizing risk.
Lastly, in addition to being able to test a variety of campaigns, interactivity and consumer engagement is a valuable and inherent part of influencer marketing that can help guide optimization. As an often passive form of traditional advertising, celebrity endorsements don’t typically offer those types of real-time insights.
The decision whether to invest in a celebrity endorsement or influencer marketing strategy will largely depend on a business’s budget and goals. If a brand wants their message to be everywhere and has the money to accomplish it, a celebrity endorsement can yield incredible results.
However, for a cost-effective option with a more targeted, cross-platform social approach, influencer marketing can deliver on key performance indicators (KPIs) and offer the kind of return on investment (ROI) important to businesses.
All of that said, with the line between traditional celebrities and social media influencers continuing to blur, the two tactics are quickly merging into a unified model increasingly preferred by both marketers and brands.