One of the questions we hear most often from both brands and agencies is: How do you differentiate between a celebrity and an influencer? How do you define the two?
As time goes by, it seems the words “celebrity” and “influencer” are increasingly thrown around interchangeably, diluting the significance of both tactics and creating a larger misunderstanding as to their place in the marketing toolbox.
With the boundaries between celebrity marketing and influencer marketing growing more hazy, we’re here to help draw a line in the sand.
The Real Difference Between Celebrities and Influencers
Starting out, let’s look at some basic definitions:
- An influencer: Someone who becomes digitally relevant by building an audience online, typically via a social platform like Instagram, YouTube or a blog.
- A celebrity: Someone who becomes famous for a talent outside of the digital world, such as a film or TV actor, athlete, model, comedian, chef, etc. Celebrities have intrinsic value beyond the promotion of a particular product.
Now, with those foundational definitions in mind, we can start to dig deeper.
We as a culture have been fascinated with celebrity for what feels like forever — it was actually in the 1700s when royal endorsements were first used as a type of celebrity branding to promote products. Whether you like it or not, celebrities act as the gatekeepers of popular culture, resembling (hear me out) something closer to mythic figures in the culture at large.
And yes, while celebrities are frequently used as vehicles to promote a brand and its products or services, they hold more cultural value than that. Celebrities elevate brands, and, when used correctly, can push them into the realm of iconography. That’s what makes them such powerful marketing tools.
Influencers stand as a unique counterpoint. Influencers are “everyday people” who develop niche audiences based upon their passion for a certain field (i.e. fashion, food, lifestyle, fitness). They build this audience over time (organically or otherwise), until one day they become a viable option to promote products or services via what is meant to be an authentic and focused channel.
The key difference between influencers and celebrities is that influencers lack the undeniable cultural cachet and mass market appeal of celebrities. Think about it this way: we know a celebrity like Meryl Streep from her acting career and not her endorsement career. Most influencers are only known for being an influencer.
And that’s okay! Because the strategic purpose of influencer marketing should not be to replace celebrities, as many seem to believe is the case. The two strategies are distinct and serve their own purpose, which is why confusing them and discussing them interchangeably can be dangerous.
Influencer Marketing: A Social and Digital Strategy
A common misperception is that, as influencer marketing’s star has risen, budget is being pulled out of endorsement and applied to influencer marketing.
Not the case.
The influencer budget is completely separate from the endorsement budget and is typically a part of the social media budget. The social media and digital teams are uniquely focused on generating unique, engaging content and converting and moving target consumer segments through the funnel. This is what makes influencer marketing a social and digital strategy.
Celebrity Endorsement: A Brand Marketing Strategy
The endorsement budget is largely controlled by the CMO, brand marketers, or the brand’s creative agency.
The brand team is focused on larger plans and tactics, with goals and responsibilities around unified vision, brand awareness and relevancy, and larger 360-degree campaigns. That’s why endorsement falls into the brand marketing wheelhouse.
Celebrities vs. Influencers: A Question of Mission
When trying to differentiate between celebrities and influencers, a helpful way to look at it is through the lens of goals and mission.
Celebrities can enhance the overall perception, worth and exposure of a brand on a massive scale, with an intrinsic value beyond the promotion of a particular product or brand. Influencers are more tactical, used as single-channel selling tools to promote a product or service to a niche audience.
See the difference? Good. Because you should know before buying something less than what you may have wanted.
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