The Evolution Of Celebrity Endorsement

The Evolution of Celebrity Endorsement

If you’ve been even remotely aware of the marketing landscape over the past few years, I’m sure you’ve heard something to the tune of, “Celebrity endorsement doesn’t work anymore. Influencer marketing is where it’s at.”

Sure, influencer marketing offers a more targeted approach, allowing brands to reach more engaged, niche audiences. So, naturally, it must be a better use of budget than a large investment in a small handful of very famous people… right?

Maybe not.

When discussing the failures of celebrity endorsement, we need to stop pointing fingers at the type of talent that this format highlighted (the Hollywood A-list) and start to look at the real reason why celebrity endorsement has failed. Just like influencer marketing today, celebrity endorsement’s failings lie in its contrived nature.

The highly scripted and staged format of both celebrity endorsement and influencer marketing continually misses the mark for authenticity and somehow continues to be disregarded by marketers. This key component (ever-important to consumers) is pushing both tactics to a long-overdue point of reckoning, welcoming a new third phase to the fold. What I like to call natural celebrity endorsement.

The Evolution of Celebrity Endorsement: From the 1700s to Today

Now before we can begin to understand where we might be headed in the future, let’s take a quick look back at where we’ve come from.

Celebrity endorsement is said to have originated all the way back in the mid-1700s. The UK-based glass company Wedgewood was one of the first notable companies to use British royalty to promote their products. In the 1800s, Pope Leo XIII appeared on posters for a cocaine-laced wine called Vin Mariani. The cigarette industry was the next to use celebrities to promote their products in the early 1900s. Athletes came into the mix in a big way in the 1980s when Nike selected Michael Jordan as their major celebrity endorser.

Big-name celebrities were used as “endorsers” back then because it was known that the celebrity would impact a large number of consumers. Because of this, it was worth the brand’s large-scale investment.

When social platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram began exploding in the 2000s and beyond, however, everything changed. These massive social platforms began to democratize the ways in which consumers found out about content. And with this social boom and its content democratization came a new era of “celebrities.”

Suddenly, anyone could become a celebrity. That hairdresser who lived up the street? They’re a YouTube star, known for fabulous tutorials. Your friend’s sixteen-year-old sister? She’s an Instagram model now, pushing product for fashion and makeup brands. Over a matter of years, American society went from only having a couple dozen really famous people to having tens of thousands famous people (all with varying degrees of celebrity and influence).

There was now a deeper bench of “influencers” for brands to pick from, each with their own niche and targeted audience. With this wide roster came new opportunities – and the idea behind influencer marketing was born.

The core components of celebrity endorsement remained. Influencers (like good old-fashioned celebrities) were paid by brands to promote their products, and the content the influencer promoted was scripted or staged in some capacity with the brand.

While the core components remained the same, there were still some noticeable changes. Influencer marketing was executed on a smaller scale, but had a potentially higher impact on the consumers who saw the content. Even better, influencer marketing felt more real to consumers, like a friend recommending a product they love using. Instead of a fully produced set or campaign, the tactic involved an influencer (celebrity or otherwise) posting a piece of content from the comfort of their home or using a street-style shot that mimicked a paparazzi photograph.

As the number of influencers on the market increased, so did the frequency at which consumers were served influencer content. Consumers are now exposed to roughly 4,000 ads each day. Our YouTube channels are bombarded with influencer content. Every time we log onto Instagram, our feeds are flooded with influencers.

Compared to influencer marketing, celebrity endorsement comes off as highly staged and just plain fake to some consumers. It is also (arguably) very risky for the brand. Why invest ten million dollars in a single celebrity that may not resonate with consumers or could even end up damaging brand image?

While influencer marketing has been a great step in the right direction for brands (less cost, more targeted, more authentic), it’s really only a half step. When it comes down to it, influencer marketing is still not authentic. It involves a brand paying an influencer to post a staged photograph endorsing their brand. Plain and simple.

Instead of brands admitting that their influencer content is clearly staged, though, they try to play it off as if it’s real and unmanicured. And the consumer response is not always positive, especially as younger consumers grow more distrustful and attuned to the nature of scripted content. They have no issue calling brands out either, as you can see from the consumer reaction to this piece of content that actress Olivia Wilde and Tiffany & Co. engaged in together:

tiffany & co olivia wilde

Consumers enjoy reading and learning more about celebrities. More than 300 million people read about celebrities each month, and this number only continues to rise. Knowing the influence and hold celebrities have over the larger consumer population, we shouldn’t blame the talent for the failures of any celebrity-related tactics.

Celebrities weren’t the driving force behind the shift from traditional endorsement to influencer marketing, and they won’t be the reason why influencer marketing makes its next seismic shift. It all comes down to consumers and what they want and care about. And right now? They demand truth.

Consumers don’t really care about the brands that celebrities are paid to promote. What they care about are the brands that celebrities support and opt to use in a completely unsolicited manner: the sneakers they wear when training for a highly physical film role, the SUV they use to drive their three young kids to school, the top they wear out to lunch with friends. These are the moments of natural celebrity endorsement that I mentioned before.

It’s time for brands to stop promoting contrived, highly staged celebrity interactions and start thinking about how they can begin to incorporate these real, authentic celebrity instances into their larger strategy. Only then will it become apparent to consumers which brands celebrities actually like and which brands are working to gain their trust.


Ready to make smarter, more authentic celebrity decisions?

Spotted is here to flip the celebrity paradigm. Our platform helps you identify and invest in celebrities who will resonate with your target customers. Spotted also analyzes and provides insights into celebrities’ natural interactions with your brand, offering frictionless tools that allow you to activate these authentic moments across digital channels.

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