As Celebrities Become Influencers, What Are The Consequences For Brands?

Oct 13, 2023
As Celebrities Become Influencers, What Are The Consequences For Brands?
A cultural shift is taking place before our eyes. Influencers are leaning into celebrity culture, while more traditional celebrities are going viral on social media.

This means brands need to move with the times to tap into a new era of talent collaborations.

Traditional Celebrities Are Now Becoming Influencers
Take Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice. Their “Barbie World” song recently went viral on TikTok, despite only being played during the credits of the current box office smash Barbie. Dance tutorials, lip syncs and people doing their versions of the song and dances have abounded, with the hashtag #barbieworldremix alone amassing more than 24 million views already. Meanwhile, the official YouTube video for the song has more than 101 million views.

Or consider veteran pop star Kylie Minogue, who reached a whole new audience of Gen Z fans after her song “Padam Padam” went viral earlier this year on TikTok.

While Minaj and Ice Spice’s virality was almost certainly fueled by the blockbuster movie that’s entered the zeitgeist, Minogue going viral on TikTok with “Padam Padam” shows how stars can realize the power of influence by embracing social platforms. Minogue joined TikTok in a clever move when it exploded in popularity in 2020, but it wasn’t until this year that she moved into influencer territory when TikTok users went crazy over the catchiness of “Padam Padam.”

It shows that just as influencers have become celebrities over the past few years, there is movement in the other direction.

Celebrities like these who are increasingly demonstrating relevance through viral content are becoming more attractive to brands who want to tap into their audiences. Minaj is now one of the highest-paid stars on Instagram and makes an estimated $1,031,000 per post featuring an endorsement or partnership with a brand. Minogue was already in demand and the offers will likely be flooding in with her newfound virality. Even Ice Spice is now getting in on the celebrity influencer action with a new deal with Dunkin’.

And some stars don’t even need to go viral to command huge fees. Footballing legend Cristiano Ronaldo commands $2,397,000 per brand post.

Of course, this is not a completely new phenomenon. Social media has democratized access to celebrities’ lives for years, and they have long been trying to humanize themselves by opening up their lives online. The pandemic accelerated this trend, as we were able to glimpse celebrities inside their own homes, seeing their pets, their home decor and their pajamas. Brands leaned into this with the likes of Eva Longoria coloring her roots at home for L’Oréal.

Blurred Lines
For brands, the lines are certainly blurring, and this is having an impact on partnerships. There used to be two partnership models. First, there were longer-term celebrity endorsement deals, product placements and brand ambassadorships with celebrities such as athletes, pop singers and actors. Here, brands bought the celebrity affiliation and (hopefully) got value in return.

Then, there was the influencer route—paid-for posts promoting products. Brands bought an audience rather than buying the influencer and their reputation, and it was usually a short-term affiliation to protect brands in case the influencer’s reputation went south.

At the dawn of influencer marketing, influencers were simply people who had attracted large followings on social media by creating content that people enjoyed, shared and followed. Whether they were geared toward beauty, fashion or sports, they were the ones pushing the boundaries of what was possible on social media, with brands taking a keen interest in how they could use influencers’ audiences to push their products. It was an alternative to relying on big-dollar celebrity deals—brands could do it at a lower cost, be more creative and connect with people.

But then money and fame came for the influencers. The likes of Sidemen and Logan and Jake Paul started living like celebrities on YouTube—we saw their mansions, Lamborghinis and them having the MTV Cribs lifestyle that celebrities gave us access to in the early 2000s. Some of these influencers are now commanding similar fees to “traditional” stars.

Will Star Power Win?
Brands now have a choice to make. Influencers showed how to build an audience and use social platforms to be creative and drive engagement. With celebrities now leaning into this culture to create an impact on social media, often with a wider reach, this opens up a new era of brand partnerships.

However, by being more active on social media, celebrities are also increasingly subjecting themselves to cancel culture and risk making mistakes that damage their reputations—much like influencers. Brands need to think about which collaborations will drive more value for their money, because top-tier celebrities still command greater fees than influencers, even if the gap is closing when it comes to big-name influencers.

Brands might want someone instantly recognizable to their target audience—like the recent tie-up between superstar footballer Phil Foden and Cernucci—but celebrities can be very selective about what they put their face to.

Even with big-name influencers, brands usually deal with them directly and get their input on campaigns. With celebrities, you’re dealing with agents who can be an obstacle to getting things done.

When it comes to choosing between celebrities and influencers, brands have other considerations to make. Some might have heaps of followers and reach, but zero influence. Brands need to ask: Will customers buy because of this person? Do we want that name associated with us? Are they likely to work with us one week and our competitor the next? Brands need to ensure a good fit so campaigns don’t look inauthentic, and build solid contracts to ensure a level of exclusivity.

In the meantime, with celebrities increasingly adept at social media and influencers increasingly charging celebrity-sized fees, when it comes to businesses getting a bang for their buck with online brand collaborations, maybe the pendulum is swinging back to traditional stars. As Minogue herself once sang, perhaps it’s now a case of “better the devil you know.”