New age celebrity endorsements: social media celebrities

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By Consultant Ned Worledge 

Celebrity endorsements are nothing new.

The fashion, make-up, alcohol, soft drink, bottled water, airline and wrist watch industries, among many, many others are guilty of using celebrities to promote their product.

Today, people understand the use of celebrities to push a product and can see through the thin vale through to the large pay cheque that comes with having your face associated with a perfume brand.

It’s certainly not a tactic of a bygone era but anecdotal, celebrity endorsements have been on the decline over the past five years.

The idea that any Tom, Dick or Harry can drink a certain type of bottled water and look like Brad Pitt is a concept that has somewhat lost its shine due to what I believe to be a failure of big brands to create a genuine link between the product and the celebrity to which people can relate to.

This relatable link between product and celebrity is why endorsements by sporting celebrities can still prove worthwhile. People believe when Jason Day tells them that the new Taylormade M1 driver is the best golf club he has ever used because that very same club is the one he walked out onto Whistling Straits with to win the PGA Championship.

Essentially it comes down to trust. Do you trust that the person telling you to buy or do something is genuinely telling you because they believe it themselves? If your brother, sister, mother, father told you a certain restaurant served the best steak in town, you would probably believe them. But do you believe Rihanna drinks Budweiser.

As part of the 2013 Font Social Media Index, over 1000 Tasmanians were surveyed regarding their use of social media and their views on social media. As part of survey, people were asked who they trust within their social networks. 82 per cent said family was the most trustworthy source of information while celebrities ranked the lowest at 33 per cent.

From the ashes of blatant endorsements has risen a new form of celebrity being used to promote products. In our modern society with our modern digital mediums, the ‘social media celebrity’ is the new vehicle for brands to hock their wares.

The rise of the social media celebrity is a somewhat recent sensation. Effectively, these are attractive people with hundreds of thousands of followers, who for example, post photos of themselves in new clothes, with drinks that will give you the body you want at a location you’d rather be, all paid for by the brands they are wearing or holding.

The idea behind using social media celebrities is the same as celebrity endorsements. The qualities of the individual are transferred to the product.

So if the way social media celebrities are used is the same the way Hollywood types are used, why have social media celebrities become so prominent?

It comes back to my earlier point, social media celebrities are more (if only slightly) trustworthy than the Hollywood types.

The reason why, I believe, is twofold.

When viewed on social media, the accounts of social media celebrities are mixed in with your friends and family, the people you trust most. Posts from social media celebrities don’t stand alone like a traditional ad does. They are integrated into your feed and to the naked eye, look very similar to a post from your best friend. For arguments sake, if we look at Instagram, anybody can tag brands or products that they like in their photos. For example, I can put something up like “Had a great run this morning. Love the new @asics shoes.” The only difference between me saying that and someone who is a social media celebrity is that I don’t have 200,000 followers.

This brings me to my second point; they are far more engaging and real than a Hollywood celebrity. Because what social media celebrities post is to a point easily replicable and relatable, it builds the notion that this is a ‘real’ person. Followers get an insight into the lives of these people, they learn who their family members are, where they are from, even what the inside of their bedroom looks like, all things that you would know about your friends. Followers feel as if they know the celebrity even if they have never met them or even spoken to them. Chris Rojek (2001) describes this as a ‘parasocial relationship’.

Putting my marketing hat on, the use of social media celebrities is brilliant. It is direct without being invasive, after all the people who see the post chose to follow that person. If used correctly, brands can talk straight to their target market. Reaching 100-300 thousand people who are likely to buy your product is nothing to sneeze at. And lastly, as I keep coming back to, to the follower they are real, relatable and trustworthy.

So next time you open a social media platform and see someone who hasn’t been in a movie, TV series or up on stage singing telling you that the coconut water they drink is AMAZING!, check how many followers they have, they’re probably a social media celebrity.


Rojek, C. (2001). Celebrity. London: Reaktion.

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