Is the role of the celebrity (in advertising) dead?

Which is best: Charlize Theron's celebrity gravitas or Zoella's authenticity?
Which is best: Charlize Theron's celebrity gravitas or Zoella's authenticity?

The power of influence isn't a new concept. However, who wields it in an age of social media, user-generated content and hyper-connectivity is open to debate.

The growing power of influencers to connect with brands’ audiences is putting advertisers’ reliance on traditional celebrities for campaigning under the microscope.

As it stands, it appears influencers now have more power than traditional celebrities when it comes to promoting products. According to recent research from Takumi, 82% of PR and marketing professionals are using influencers in one form or another. Of these respondents, 38% said they were using "social media influencers" – the highest ranking of the options available (which included musicians, sportspeople, TV actors and film stars). This power shift towards influencers begs the question – what do they have that celebrities don’t?

The power of authenticity

First, and most importantly, bloggers, vloggers and Instagrammers hold the power of authenticity. It’s this that has helped them gain their following and engagement to start with; posting content about brands that they genuinely love, use and deem to be "cool". Many of these influencers will turn down work if it doesn’t fit their own channels or style. This helps keep their content relevant to their audiences, as well as giving the impression of integrity and that they are not being paid for product placement and promotion.

Authenticity gives influencers a more direct link to consumers. The lives of traditional celebrities can seem distant and unachievable, as they saunter from one exclusive party to the next draped in designer labels. By contrast, influencers can be easier to relate to, even when they are less polished. Followers can connect more easily to a girl giving her review on the latest make-up trend or trying out the latest apps.

This is in stark contrast to the traditional influencers we’re used to seeing. Although they bring glamour and star power to the party, they lack the authenticity of social media influencers; their involvement with brands can be seen simply as a straight commercial deal, rather than a more credible and honest endorsement, based on love and collaboration. It’s no secret that celebrities are handsomely paid for endorsing products, and consumer knowledge of this is reducing their power.

Global presence

Of course, to call the death of the celebrity endorsement is premature. Social media influencers are brilliant at what they do, creating content and understanding what their audiences want. However, they may not be relevant for all brands and sectors. The thought of Zoella being the face of Dior’s J’adore perfume, for example, following the powerhouse that is Charlize Theron, is quite a stretch, given that the reason celebrities have held such influence is their global presence. So how can brands ensure they are using influencers that are right for them?

At the heart of any influencer campaign is the target audience. The first question any marketer worth their salt should ask is whether the brand and sector have any relevance to the influencer and audience they are trying to approach. This requires more than just a tenable link. When working with influencers it is essential to ensure your brand is a natural fit and still interesting, or engagement rates will plummet.

It is possible that influencers may one day become the faces of global brands. After all, many have achieved breakout celebrity status of their own. For this shift to happen, brands and influencers alike must ensure they don’t abuse audience trust. Without the power of authenticity, social media influencers become less valuable.

Of course, the best way to achieve natural content is by giving the appropriate influencer high-to-full creative freedom – something that may make many brands cower. By placing a high level of trust in an influencer who best suits your product, you will reap the engagement you’re looking for. The bigger the perceived risk, the higher the rewards.

So, to all brands considering working with influencers, and vice versa, ensure authenticity is the key to your content, no matter how tempting a big cheque may be.

Holly Eddleston is influence and marketing director at Exposure Digital

Start Your Free 30-Day Free Trial

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free