My new column is live in The Drum:
For better and worse, influencers are not celebrities – and marketers ignore that fact at their peril.
Amazon expanded its influencer affiliate program to the UK last week. The British ad standards authority has banned an Instagram video by former Love Island contestant Olivia Buckland. Snapchat’s public relations firm has sued Luka Sabbat for not wearing the company’s spectacles.
Influencer marketing is constantly in the headlines, so I started to wonder if it is worthwhile at all. I interviewed people in the field, and they said the practice can be useful – as long as people remember the difference between fame and influence, the place for the tactic in the marketing funnel, and the issues with measurement and fraud.
The difference between celebrities and influencers
In 1899, American economist Thorstein Veblen published The Theory of the Leisure Class. He found that lower classes copy the wealthy’s consumption to produce a “trickle down” effect in business, according to Mike Molesworth, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Reading’s Henley Business School in the UK.
Fast forward eight decades to the time by when celebrity endorsements had become common. In the 1980s, Paul Newman sold salad dressing, and Michael Jordan became Nike’s brand ambassador. In the 1990s, Bill Cosby shilled Jell-O, and David Beckham had his own aftershave.
“With celebrity endorsement, the celebrity lends their fame to a brand or product,” British influencer marketing consultant Scott Guthrie said. “The celebrity often has no affinity or expertise with the product. Communication is one way. It’s the old broadcast model of communications.”
But influencer marketing over social media is not about broad popularity.