The celebrity curtain call

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YouTube star AmyLee33.
YouTube star AmyLee33.

For teens and millennials, the authority of endorsements has shifted from the show pony to the subject-matter expert

"Who’s that on your T-shirt?" I asked. "Oh, it's Amylee33 — she’s a YouTuber," she said.

I’m not entirely sure why I was surprised to hear that my teenage niece was proudly sporting a fashion accessory idolizing the iconized avatar of a content provider from the Internet.

According to Nielsen, YouTube is the Number One social network for teens and millenials – reaching over 50 percent of that customer group – more than any cable TV network. Also when you consider the report from YouTube themselves from September 2014 that revealed an astonishing 98 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds use their smartphone on a daily basis to consume video content, should it really come as any surprise that these information superhighway heroes could diversify their fame and notoriety to millions of their subscribers into a lucrative fashion franchise? In short, I guess not.

It should come as no surprise because there is a case to be made that the "celebrity" endorsement era that brands and advertising has heavily relied upon for decades is coming to an abrupt halt. The game has changed. No longer is it credible, compelling or cool to have a Hollywood or HBO B-Lister stand up, walk on and infer with no apparent reason or requirement that product "x" is awesome and you should have some of it in your life. Those days are gone.

Think about it. Why would a celebrity made famous and equitable in an age dominated by TV and film have any jurisdiction, impact or provenance across a whole new generation of platforms, social media, gaming, digital products, service design, content provision and even e-commerce? Today’s value offering from brands is better fronted from those who know about the business not from those in show business.

We live in a world where real life trumps rhetoric and the new, improved way to connect with the intended audience means moving from the use of the lame lip synched show pony to the socially supercharged subject-matter expert.

Speaking from our own experiences at Razorfish — the redundancy of "celebrity" and the rise of the influencer across many different sectors and challenges makes for some compelling evidence that the tide is turning.

Utilizing, identifying and engaging "the influencer" we have successfully launched a brand new product sector for one luxury carmaker, in their largest market in the Western world with just five relatively "unknown" Instagram photographers. We have brought sell-out product innovation to the menu of the world’s most prolific restaurant by harnessing the food fantasies of their fans. And through the study of billions of searches for hair care information and partnering with the worlds most respected beauty bloggers and content creators we have successfully answered millions of hair and beauty queries from women all over the planet.

What’s the secret to these successes?

Well, of course there has much been written on the subject from the world of behavioral economics around the human decision-making process and the motivations that make us do and act in a particular fashion, which all have merit. Simply put, though, there is one core weapon that the influencer has in its armory that will defy any amount of celebrity mind games.

That weapon is authenticity.

Influencers make everything real. In fact they are real. No bullshit or tenuous association with the product, brand or service. The value they bring is born out of a real, deep expertise and understanding for their chosen subject – respected by many and shared socially. A real and genuine passion for what they do – demonstrated by the time and effort they put into growing and connecting with their fan base. They have a real, unique capability and skill – often captured and subsequently distributed for millions to learn and be inspired by, a social currency with value.

Amylee33 – the Minecraft mentor who has a YouTube video channel offering guidance and inspiration for the game’s global audience has not achieved almost 100 million views of her content by accident and it certainly has nothing to do with her (or his) "celebrity" profile. She provides a reasonably unique, useful service, enabling, empowering and improving the lives of the audience. Making the stuff people want not making people want stuff. Something a lot of brands could learn from.

Celebrity born in the TV age is losing its influence, while the Internet-born influencer is the new celebrity. 

Daniel is CCO of Razorfish Global.

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