We all know it as the hot, trendy buzz that’s all the rage right now — but what is influencer marketing exactly? Despite its growing popularity, brands still somehow seem a bit unsure as to what it is and where it falls among their tactics and media mix.
In particular, it seems to be getting lumped together with certain celebrity endorsement tactics, confusing influencers with celebrities (and vice versa), influencer social posting with endorsement ads, and so on.
So, let’s just clear the air right here and now. As influencer marketing and celebrity endorsement begin to converge at a point of inauthenticity, it’s time for a quick crash course in differentiating between the two strategies.
Crash Course: What Is Influencer Marketing?
Everyone seems to have their own definition of just what exactly influencer marketing is. Here are just a few:
- The Huffington Post called it “the action of promoting and selling products or services through people (influencers) who have the capacity to have an effect on the character of a brand.”
- Forbes referred to it as “the grey territory between an official testimonial and a subtle product mention, which is done almost in passing.”
Everyone may have their own disparate take on how to best define influencer marketing, but there are standard throughlines:
- It involves a social media post (typically just on Instagram) that comes from an influencer’s page/profile.
- The influencer (someone active on social media typically with a large audience and following) is at the forefront of the post, whether they are a micro-influencer or a larger-scale celebrity.
- They are using the post to promote a brand product, service, or the like (to varying degrees of subtlety).
- More often than not, the influencer is paid by the brand to do so.
If they were paid to promote, the FTC now requires that they make it very clear that the post is sponsored by including a clarifier like #Ad or #Sponsored at the forefront of the post copy.
Overall, the influencer marketing movement has prided itself on authenticity via social media personality, with brands using ideal, “like-minded” influencers as allies to create awareness and drive action.
Crash Course: What Is Celebrity Endorsement?
For celebrities, “influencer marketing” is nothing new. Celebrities like A-list actors and actresses, major athletes, and hit musicians are the original influencers — and have been for a long time. Their means of influence has just always been defined differently, specifically via endorsement deals.
Let’s define it real quick: celebrity endorsement is *deep breath* a form of advertising campaign or marketing strategy used by brands that involves celebrities using their fame and social status to help promote a product or service. The hope is that seeing the celebrity endorse the brand will create a positive connotation, stick in consumers’ minds, and drive some form of action.
Sounds kind of similar to influencer marketing, right?
While you may be able to identify celebrities as “influencers” and align some of the goals of celebrity endorsement with those influencer marketing, there are crucial differences between the two strategies:
- The length can vary, but endorsement deals are on more of a campaign-level basis and less of a one-time deal.
- A celebrity endorsement is typically contracted so that the celebrity cannot be seen using or wearing competitors’ products.
- Endorsement deals are expensive. How expensive? Anywhere from $2 million to $160 million and beyond.
- Celebrity endorsement campaigns require extensive creative work and production.
- Unlike influencer marketing posts, celebrity endorsement campaigns are 360-degree campaigns that include advertising across both traditional and new media channels — hitting a much larger, more widespread global audience.
Essentially, celebrity endorsement is all about capitalizing on the unique power and fame of heavy-hitting celebrities in hopes of reaching as many consumers as possible with highly memorable brand content.
What Do These Two Strategies Have in Common? Inauthenticity.
Influencer marketing and celebrity endorsement began as two completely separate strategies (with distinct looks, approaches, and goals). As I outlined above, there are still key differences between the two, but influencer marketing content and celebrity endorsement campaigns are starting to look awfully similar.
You may notice that the lines are getting blurrier and blurrier; you may even have trouble telling them apart.
As I already mentioned, both strategies still have their differences, but brand micromanagement and demand for specific control over creative is driving influencer marketing to an inevitable endpoint: a cheaper, less time-sucking alternative to celebrity endorsement (all without the reach and star power of actual celebrities).
In this push for greater manicuring of influencer content, as well, the authenticity is being sucked dry from influencer marketing — its biggest point of pride (at least initially).
This is all to say that, when it comes down to it, influencer marketing and celebrity endorsement have converged at a point of inauthenticity. Both strategies are solicited, staged, and highly manicured, and wary Millennial consumers are catching on.
So, where do you stand on the issue? Is the influencer marketing bubble on the verge of bursting? Have consumers had enough? Where has all of the authenticity gone? Sound off to us on Twitter @SpottedMedia_US!