Celebrity endorsements are almost as old as advertising itself. In the 1700s, a British potter named Josiah Wedgwood produced a china set used by the queen, using her endorsement to dub himself the “potter to her majesty,” establishing his namesake company, Wedgwood, that thrives to this day.
Influencer marketing, meanwhile, is brand new, even in the face of its growing prominence over recent years, and closely correlated with the evolution of social media.
Despite distinct differences between these two marketing strategies, they are often confused with one another. For any marketer looking to spend on a paid celebrity promotion, the questions are: What are the pros and cons of celebrity endorsements and influencer marketing, and which should I use for my campaign?
What’s the difference?
Let’s start with the basics. An influencer is generally not a household name, but rather a person that has a dedicated, niche following on social media. A celebrity endorser, who may or may not have a large social following, is more of a household name and appeals to larger demographic groups. They’re much more recognizable and have their own reputation and persona that consumers can identify.
What’s best for my marketing campaign?
Throwing the weight of a celebrity endorser behind your brand can truly alter the trajectory of your business for better or worse, which is why it’s such an important decision. On the positive side, a study by Harvard professor Anita Elberse found that high-profile endorsements “generate a 4 percent increase in sales, which corresponds with around $10 million in additional sales annually and nearly a 0.25 percent increase in stock returns.” If things go south, though, it can be costly. A U.C. Davis study estimated that Tiger Woods’ scandals cost the shareholders of companies he endorsed up to $12 billion.
Influencer marketing, meanwhile, carries less risk but also less reward. On the positive side, it makes your brand feel more relatable and accessible to consumers and helps reach specific audiences. It’s generally less expensive than celebrity endorsement, but also doesn’t provide the same scale that a celebrity can.
Another downside of influencer marketing is that many influencers are experts at collecting social media followers, including fake followers and bots that are bought to increase promotional opportunities. The New York Times reported that as many as 15 percent of Twitter users are fake bots designed to simulate real people, and there are around 60 million fake accounts on Facebook. Even influencers that are reaching real people may not always drive actual ROI. A survey published in Marketing Week found that 38 percent of marketers “are unable to tell whether influencer activity actually drives sales.”
There are some celebrities that have virtually no social following but are still effective endorsers. That’s because what they lack in followers, they make up for in their relatability, credibility and likeability to audiences, which are all factors marketers should consider when choosing a celebrity endorser.
For example, George Clooney (Nespresso), Jennifer Garner (Capital One) and Jennifer Lawrence (Dior) all have minimal social media followings but are good fits for the brands they represent. There are also celebrities who have large followings—take Ashley Greene and her more than 2 million Twitter followers—and aren’t recognizable to wide audiences. Marketers therefore need to take a nuanced approach to selecting an influencer or endorser.
What should I look for?
For celebrities, you should ensure that their personal brand aligns with your organization’s values and mission. It’s also helpful to make sure the chances of them being recognized is powerful enough that it will move the needle for prospective customers. It’s not worth spending lots of money on an endorser that doesn’t have a large enough reach. Lastly, know what demographics and consumer segments you are targeting with this endorsement and that your celebrity endorser appeals to this group. By understanding which types of consumer the celebrity appeals to (i.e., women ages 18–24), you can ensure that the celebrity aligns with your target audience.
For influencers, look not just at the number of followers but verified followers. Applications such as SocialRank will let you pull this about your own followers so you can ask an influencer to pull this data. Also, be sure to check engagement rates. If an influencer has hundreds of thousands of followers but their tweets only get a handful of likes or retweets, that’s a sure-tell sign they have followers who are bots or were purchased.
Any marketer should think about whether a celebrity’s personal brand aligns with a company mission, determine whether they are recognizable enough to be impactful and that they justify their cost. You should determine how great the risk is that they’ll jeopardize their reputation. For influencers, you should ask: Is their social following a match for my campaign? Do they have a large enough verified follower group? Are they gaining enough social momentum to invest in them?
They say that the best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing at all. Whether you’re leveraging an influencer or a celebrity for your next marketing campaign, it’s vital that you find a way to market authentically, stay true to your organization’s unique, cultivated voice and resonate with the right consumers.