For decades, celebrities have been endorsing products and influencing the purchase decisions of the masses. But the past few years, many brands have been switching to influencer marketing. In fact, influencer marketing has become so popular that 86% of marketers were using it in 2016, according to a study by Linqia.
But what exactly is the difference between getting marketers to promote your product, and working with influencers for promotion? And why is influencer marketing considered to be so much better than celebrity endorsements?
Influencers Vs Celebrities: The Difference
First, let’s try to understand the main differences between influencer marketing and celebrity endorsements. It can be easy to confuse the two, as they both involve marketing a product, service, or brand through a famous, and highly influential individual. Some of the biggest differences between the two are:
Celebrities don’t necessarily have to be experts in the type of products they’re promoting. You may see pop stars like Justin Bieber promoting Calvin Klein underwear, or Selena Gomez promoting Adidas Neo.
They aren’t fashion designers, and have no involvement in developing those products, but their endorsements still work because they have mass appeal. Millions of fans look up to them, and may be willing to try anything they endorse.
On the other hand, influencer marketing works mainly because the influencer has expertise in the type of products they’re promoting.
For instance, you may see beauty vloggers like Michelle Phan promoting a new line of beauty products, or fashion bloggers like Aimee Song (Song of Style) promoting a new fashion line. Their endorsements are considered trustworthy and relevant because they’re considered experts in their respective niches.
Another significant difference between celebrity endorsements and influencer marketing is that the former is more likely one-way communication. Influencers, on the other hand, tend to inspire engagement within their audience.
A celebrity may be endorsing a product in a TV ad or social media ad. While those ads are meant to be seen and heard, fans can’t really interact with them. Take the following Chanel No.5 endorsement by Brad Pitt for example.
When an influencer promotes a product through sponsored content or a product feature, it could result in two-way communication. The influencer has the ability to start a conversation with their followers. Not all of them may continue interacting with their fans in the comments, but they generally manage to engage their audiences enough to keep them talking about the promoted product.
3. Content Creation
One major difference between celebrities and influencers is that influencers are content creators. In the case of celebrity endorsements, the brand or marketing agency comes up with an idea and a storyline for promoting the product. The celebrity only plays their role, and contributes their influence to the campaign.
In other words, a celebrity may be the face of the campaign, but not the brains behind it.
With most influencers being experts in their respective fields, they also participate in creating the promotional content, and sometimes even control the message. Brands may give them a few guidelines on what they need from the campaign, but the influencer is in charge of the voice and tone in the sponsored content.
In other words, they have creative freedom when promoting the brand’s product or service.
For example, food blogger Christina Russell (Body Rebooted) created a piece of content to promote Bob’s Red Mill. She created a recipe using one of the brand’s ingredients, provided her readers with tips to create the same dish, and then promoted the brand’s giveaway campaign.
She’s the one who controlled the content, and messaging for the sponsored post.
An important point to note is that some brands still make the mistake of treating influencers like celebrities. That is to say they try to control what the influencer says, and how they promote the product. This could harm their relationship with the influencer, and may even affect the quality of content being produced.
In a survey by Crowdtap, a majority of influencers claimed that they would be willing to work with a brand more than once if they’re granted creative freedom.
As mentioned earlier, celebrities tend to have a huge impact on the purchase decisions of the masses. Their reach expands across various demographics and customer personas because they have built their followings through offline careers. Normally, a famous actor, model, musician, or athlete would be considered a traditional celebrity.
In the case of influencers, most of them have built a following through social media, and other online channels. Their reach usually focuses on a specific niche audience. For example, an influential gaming YouTuber wouldn’t normally endorse a fashion line or beauty brand, but they would endorse gaming and tech products, or perhaps even geeky fandom merchandise.
In some cases, there may be a gray area that mixes some elements of the two strategies together. For example, an athlete may be considered a celebrity, but their endorsement of a sportswear line could somehow be seen as a form of influencer marketing.
Why Choose Influencer Marketing Over Celebrity Endorsements?
A few years ago, advertising was mainly comprised of a well-known celebrity endorsing a product on T.V., billboards, or in magazines. But nowadays, the advertising industry has been overtaken by digital influencers, like bloggers and YouTubers.
1. Cost-Effectiveness and Cost Flexibility
You may have heard of A-list celebrities getting paid millions of dollars to become brand ambassadors. Beyoncé, for example, earned $50 million to promote Pepsi back in 2012. Many brands may be unable to fork up the millions required to work with a top celebrity. They may, however, have the budget to promote their products or services through a famous TV personality.
However, working with celebrities is still much more expensive than working with influencers. According to a report by The Economist, celebrities with more than 7 million Instagram followers may charge as much as $150,000 for one sponsored post. As the size of their following increases, the cost of sponsored posts also rises.
This is exactly where influencer marketing trumps celebrity endorsements. There is flexibility in terms of cost when working with influencers; but that isn’t always true with celebrity endorsements.
For a sponsored Instagram post, you can find influencers who charge less than $250 for one branded post. In fact 97% of micro-influencers only charge $500 or less according to We are Social Media. And if you’re looking to collaborate with micro-influential bloggers for your campaign, most of them would charge you $1000 or less for one sponsored post.
One of the features of working with influencers is that they’re generally experts in their respective fields. And this is where they differ from mainstream celebrities. Meanwhile, celebrities typically do not have any in-depth knowledge about the products they’re endorsing.
This feature is also one of the main benefits of influencer marketing. People turn to these individuals for advice, tips, and recommendations in regards to consumer products.
If you were considering buying a product, what would you trust more? Recommendations and advice from someone who’s an expert about said products, or someone who’s simply famous?
A study conducted by Collective Bias found that only 3% of consumers would consider purchasing a celebrity-endorsed product, while 30% would buy a product endorsed by a non-celebrity influencer.
In addition to this, a Twitter and Annalect study found that people trust influencers almost as much as their friends. Due to this high level of trust, influencers have the ability to drive purchases, and influence people’s decisions.
Let’s say you’ve just launched a new line of makeup. You want to raise awareness about the product within your target market. And you also want to win the audience’s trust so that they feel comfortable buying the product.
You can get a celebrity to endorse the product. But that’s only going to bring you brand exposure, which may not be enough to drive purchases. If you choose to promote the product through someone who actually knows something about makeup and beauty, it could make a huge difference.
An influential makeup expert could demonstrate how the product works. Or they could give their honest opinion about the product. What they say about the product will be viewed as an expert opinion, and may result in more conversions.
To promote their Star Wars: Battlefront video game, Electronic Arts combined the two elements for optimum results. They had actress Anna Kendrick star in their live action trailer. Being a well-known, mainstream celebrity, Kendrick’s influence helped engage the masses.
But to engage a more niche audience of gamers, they promoted the game through influential gamers like Greg Miller (@GameOverGreggy). The influencer has more than 750,000 Twitter followers. He also has a lot of influence in the gaming niche. That makes him a reliable source of reviews and recommendations about video games.
As mentioned earlier, influencers are content creators. They gained their influential status due to their ability to create content that appeals to, and engages their audience. So when they create sponsored content, they can drive a lot of engagements for the brand.
This is another reason why influencer marketing is much better than celebrity endorsements. When an influencer creates sponsored content to promote a product or service, the content often aligns with their usual posts, (if the brand grants them creative freedom).
These are people who already know what kind of content engages their audience. So they are able to create sponsored content that features the product, but is still engaging and authentic.
But with celebrities, they’re normally just the face of an advertising campaign created by a brand. So their promotions seem less authentic. This is perhaps why there’s such a huge contrast in the level of engagement between influencer marketing and celebrity endorsements.
Another Collective Bias study found that people spend an average of 2 minutes and 21 seconds on influencer content. This is a big difference considering that people only spend about 9 seconds viewing online ads.
Let’s compare the engagement rates of Instagram posts from a mainstream celebrity and an influencer to understand this better.
First, let’s take a look at the following post by Olivia Wilde. She shared an image of a few vinyl records from Vinyl Me, Please and talked about how she loves the company. This may not necessarily be sponsored content, but just see how the post engaged her audience.
The post received more than 9,600 likes, and 97 comments. Not too impressive considering Wilde has more than 2 million followers. One post from beauty influencer Bunny Meyer about the new Puma creepers received more than 43,000 likes, and 1,000 comments. She too has more than 2 million followers, but there’s a huge difference between how well they engage their followers.
You now understand some of the biggest reasons why influencer marketing works so much better than celebrity endorsements. This doesn’t mean that you should shun celebrities altogether for your promotional efforts. With their massive reach, and millions of followers, celebrities still have the power to raise awareness about your brand. It all depends on your goals, and marketing budget.
If you have the funds, you could try combining both influencer marketing and celebrity endorsements. For example, have one major celebrity be the face of your brand. They can help you raise awareness about your brand among the masses. Then partner with several relevant influencers to reach a niche audience, like in the case of Electronic Arts.
There’s no denying that celebrity endorsements have their benefits. People are losing trust in advertising, and blocking online banner ads on their browsers. So it is wise to take a more personalized, and trustworthy approach to reach your audience. If you need any help finding influencers to work with, or launching an influencer marketing campaign, feel free to connect with me.