In a post-Fyre Fest world, the cracks in, what is consistently referred to as influencer marketing, are looking less like cracks and more like crevasses. A recent article in the New York Times insisted the end is nigh for this marketing strategy—and it’s all thanks to a Kardashian. Well, an almost Kardashian. Kendall Jenner’s recent PR flubs (and there have been quite a few) were purported to be the sign of an inevitable end to influencer marketing. The most infamous of these blunders was a TV spot for Pepsi, in which Ms. Jenner is portrayed as some mixture of Gandhi, King, Jr., and Steinem, stripped of any semblance of civil disobedience but with the addition of a fun, blonde wig. After 24 hours of internet outrage and mockery, the ad was pulled, and Pepsi had failed to solve the world’s problems with a soda.
But Ms. Jenner cannot be blamed for anything relating to influencer marketing. She is a celebrity, and celebrities and influencers are not the same. Knowing the difference—and knowing when to employ which—is invaluable.
“The term influencer is used too liberally. Celebrities have influence, but they aren’t influencers. Influencers make something that inspires emotion,” says Rafi Mamalian, Global Director of Content and Influencer Marketing for Undertone.
This is not an issue of semantics. The case of Kendall Jenner and Pepsi was not one of failed influencer marketing, but a misguided appropriation of political protests with misguided creative.
A Celebrity endorsement attaches the name, face, and persona of a celebrity to your product. Idolizers of the celebrity will hopefully associate the qualities they like in that celebrity with your brand; influencer marketing is word of mouth advertising for the modern world. Trusted members already integrated into a niche interest group help to bolster and give legitimacy to a product. These people have created a much different kind of relationship with their followers than that of fan to celebrity, predicated on the value they bring to them as a source of education, insight, and/or inspiration.
Because they are specialists who have built their following around their expertise, they can be an incredibly powerful brand ally. When influencers recommend a product, they are offering a genuine recommendation predicated upon years of gained trust. So, when deciding between celebrity endorsement and influencer marketing, you have to decide what your brand needs more: millions of eyes that may or may not look too hard or a few thousand that are already looking for their wallets. Once you’ve decided on what type of human marketing tool suits your brand’s needs best, you now must decide what this tool looks like and what they do best.
The Celebrity: They come with a giant audience, many of who can only use credit cards for emergencies and even more who are bots. This is anyone whose autograph is worth at least a few bucks on eBay: athletes, musicians, actors, comedians, etc.
The Creator: They’re the people whose ten second Instagram videos are better than some summer blockbusters or whose photos make Nat Geo look like a student art project. Their content is what makes them valuable, which means they’re already bringing a dedicated and emotional fan base to your brand.
Subject-Matter Experts: Whether it’s food, fashion, beauty or pets, they know everything there is to know about their purview. Their fans consider them the ultimate source of knowledge and trust their opinions emphatically.
The Personal Brand: What most people think of as influencers. They’re well dressed, love inspirational quotes, and seem only to eat kale salads and quinoa bowls. These influencers have built themselves up with nothing but charisma and a good filter, which means followers find them aspirational and relatable.
“Authenticity is key,” says Josh Gotthelf, VP of Brand Marketing at Undertone. “Influencer marketing is relatively new, but the time-tested principles of brand marketing still apply. It’s critical to stay on-brand and focus on building real connections between brand, talent, and consumer.”
Picking the right influencer for the right creative isn’t an easy task, and most brands don’t have the specific know-how. But if your brand can master this strategy, you’ll be able to avoid the pitfalls, which can be the difference between a PR nightmare and an effective, winning campaign.