For years, many of us scoffed at the idea of influencers, but they are ones who are having the last laugh. The advertising industry has long been built on the celebrity endorsement. Ever since Michael Jordan partnered with Nike in 1984, the industry underwent a watershed moment and never looked back. Like MJ’s relationship with Nike, some of these endorsement deals are seemingly for life, but other stars have showed how they can switch things up every so often. Jennifer Aniston, for example, has pushed Windows 95, Diet Coke, Smartwater, and Aveeno; seemingly a new brand for each decade of her life. There are countless celebrities — be them athletes, musicians, or actors — who are associated with brands, but we seem to be approaching another shift in the industry. Large companies are no longer just looking for A-listers to hype their products; instead, they are enlisting armies of influencers. Perhaps counterintuitively, by selling things, influencers are becoming more famous.
Part of the success of influencers has to do with authenticity, even though that is a word that few would associate with that group. Much of this perceived authenticity stems from the minimal degree of separation between the average consumer and the average influencer. The average housewife is far closer to the average influencer than they are to Jennifer Aniston. Although seemingly grassroots, influencers are curators by nature. Every well-edited video and filtered photo is intended to boost their image, marketability, and follower count. The more those rise, the more they can charge companies to advertise on their channel.
The why and how
Brands are expected to spend over 16 billion USD on influencers in 2022, and this number continues to rise year over year. Consequently, millions of Instagrammers and TikTokers want to become relevant influencers, but there are also a lot of inspiring actors in Hollywood that never make it. Those influencers who have over 1 million followers generate the lion’s share of revenues and the perks that come with their pseudo-fame. Their revenue is well-earned because they add value in ways that other advertising channels cannot.
First, global brands can localise their appeal by cutting deals with these micro-celebrities. Globally envisioned marketing campaigns often fail in many important niche markets, so these influencer partnerships make their global campaigns more tailored to local sensibilities. Second, influencers are far more adaptable. When they sensed that TikTok would be the next big thing, influencers did not hesitate to migrate to that platform and produce content for it. Conventional advertising partnerships do not have this self-motivated adaptability. After all, their fame is based entirely on their ingenuity; companies are paying them to do exactly what made them famous in the first place. Whatever the next big social media trend is — whether it is a massive change to existing infrastructure like Instagram or a new social network like TikTok was a few years back – you better believe that this young cohort will adapt to it and thrive once there. And that’s the final piece of the puzzle; most influencers are young, and therefore directly part of key target demographics for most brands.
As it stands, only one-third of brands are not using influencers to promote their products. Expect this number to shrink even further as companies realise that these savvy youngsters are no passing fad.