Influencers and celebrity endorsement won’t get you authenticity

Industry Insights

Influencer marketing has established itself as an integral part of brands’ digital strategies with the market set to reach up to $10bn by 2020. The industry as a whole has had a few trip-ups recently though, leading to question the authenticity of the whole practice – fake followers, fake engagement, bad content. The main stakeholders in the industry including the tech platforms vetting the creators and all-important Instagram have been playing a central role in cleaning up this industry and shifting towards a new era of “influence” and authenticity.

Social media “influencers” will disappear

Yes, “influencers” are a fad. There is an important difference however between a social media influencer and a person with true influence.

The way to differentiate them from one another is simple. If Instagram dies tomorrow, so will social media influencers. However, people who have built their influence through their voice and recognition in a particular industry and simply use Instagram to broadcast this message, will not. Think actors, chefs, DJs, models, artists, designers. This category of influencers – or talent – don’t rely on the existence of Instagram to do their job. They are the real influencers brands should be working with.


Instagram’s role in this shift

Social media influencers will eventually disappear from our feeds for a few reasons.

Instagram has worked hard to earn the top spot on the media platform podium for influencer campaigns. This is not without making a significant amount of changes to its interface. Over the last 2 years, users have witnessed the birth of Stories, sponsored content, shoppable posts, Checkout, (and even recently released branded content ads) and an endless amount of updates to the algorithm that makes it more and more difficult to get organic reach on posts with no media spend behind them. At the rate Instagram is taking things, it seems we are moving towards brochure-like feeds of stuffed influencer posts, “branded content ads”, shoppable posts (and the list goes on) associated to brands with the biggest media budgets. All this leads to a race to content, and often badly produced content by the influencers themselves.

Although it is unrealistic to say that Instagram will become unpopular with users in a near future, the averagely crafted, unauthentic content influencers keep pushing already is. This will be the cause of people switching off from this content altogether and ultimately, cause social influencers as we know them today to disappear entirely as their posts will no longer be good enough. People are no longer duped by such content and some are even tired of it with less than 4% trusting what influencers say.


Celebrity endorsement is an old trick in the book

Celebrity endorsement is no novelty and is here to stay. The association created between a brand and a celebrity chosen to endorse a product will always be a marketing technique.

Whereas a social media influencer might just be more inclined to accept the highest paying offer, a celebrity’s public image is at stake when accepting to participate in a brand campaign (think Kendall and Pepsi). This brings credibility to the brand. However, this practice often falls short of authenticity.

So, how do brands reach true authenticity?

Take the talent side from celebrity endorsement and add in some remarkable content creative and storytelling to the mix. You end up with – “talent marketing”, and if done well, this is authentic.

What we mean by talent is what makes up the influencer’s day-to-day job. And when we say job we don’t mean blogger or socialite… Rather, their influence has come about thanks to their primary occupation and the credibility they have built in the industry – actor, chef, DJ, model, designer, athlete, advocate for a cause…

Brands should therefore work with talent that will ensure brand advocacy. This means selecting talent that shares your values, can connect to your audience through shared passions or cultural experiences and deliver your message in an authentic way.

There is nothing authentic about – not so subtly – placing a whitening toothpaste in a bathroom selfie to promote the fact you have pearly whites thanks to this product. A watch brand that chooses an athlete to endorse a collection whose values are linked to a passion for a specific sport immediately sparks authenticity. If the creative can put forward the talent’s interest for that particular sport – say race-car driving – and it resonates with the audience, then that sparks a connection.


Ultimately, it all comes down to the storytelling

It’s all about the content, the narrative and who brands pick to tell that story. There are two ways to achieve this. First, capture the content in-house so that you keep control of the narrative and storytelling. Another way is through experiential providing talent with a real-life situation to create content in, which gives more creative freedom to the talent. You are still able to maintain some reigns as the experience in-itself is heavily branded.


The return of the focus on content

Instagram removing likes from posts from August will be a good start for the return of authenticity to the platform. It will no longer make sense to purchase engagement, nor will the success of a campaign be judged on the number of likes it got. This is encouraging news for the focus to return to the content itself as there will be no other metric to judge the quality of a post. Good content storytelling has always created deep cultural connections. This is the path to true brand advocacy.


By Lucy Lowther – Marketing & PR Manager at Studio Black Tomato