Celebrity endorsements have been used by brands since the 1760s, when a savvy pottery and chinaware company used endorsements from royalty to promote their products. In more recent decades, celebrity endorsement has become a staple for many large brands, like Michael Jordan’s partnership with Nike. As social media has grown into a part of everyday life, the celebrity endorsement has adapted along with the digital world. With this shift has come new ways for brands and the influencers they partner with to connect with their audiences – and new ways for their influencers to crash, burn, and create a crisis.
Social media is all about personal connections, and it allows celebrities a chance to offer a sneak peek into their real life (or at least the sanitized version of their real life). It helps their fans relate to them in ways that regular advertising can’t, and creates a golden opportunity for brands. Brand endorsements, when presented through the lens of a celebrity’s personal, authentic recommendation on their personal social media channels can be a powerful form of marketing. But with this power comes the risk for it to fail on an epic scale when transparency and authenticity aren’t a key focus.
Fyre Festival’s lack of transparency
In April, the “luxurious” Fyre Festival made history – but not for the reasons they’d hoped. The “festival” basically didn’t even exist, and the exceptional music, food, and fun that their celebrity brand influencers promised were nowhere to be found. As the word spread, the organizers weren’t only faced with the obvious issue of not delivering the promised product – all but one of their hired influencers conveniently forgot to mention that their social media posts were sponsored.
While a brand and influencer may worry that tagging their sponsored post as the ad it is could harm the audience’s perception, the opposite is often true. Social media users don’t like to be lied to, and are still receptive to influencer content even when it’s clearly called out. Though the festival organize claim to be trying again next year, the damage caused by the lack of transparency by their influencers is already done – and the pending lawsuits for FTC violations aren’t helping matters.
“Bow Wow’s” lack of authenticity
While rapper Shad Moss (also known as Lil Bow Wow) wasn’t promoting a brand when he posted on Instagram about the flight he was taking to NYC via private jet, brands he’s worked with in the past could be at risk thanks to the reveal that he was lying.
Moss was indeed on a flight to NYC, but it wasn’t via private jet. Unfortunately for him, a fan of his noticed him on the flight, and noticed the post he’d made – and called him out on Snapchat.
The internet soon piled on to make fun of Moss’ photo with the #BowWowChallenge. There might not be a ton of animosity toward the rapper for fudging the truth, but it’s hurt his credibility, and could hurt the brands he partners with in the future.
The solution: micro-influencers
So, how can brands still get the benefit of social media influence, and collapsing on a large scale when their celebrity partner slips up? There’s three keys to consider:
- Insist on transparency. All sponsored content must be tagged as such, no exceptions.
- Carefully vet the influencers chosen – does their history match your brand values?
- Consider micro-influencers instead.
Micro-influencers don’t have the millions of followers that some celebrities do, but this could actually be a plus for brands. They’re able to connect with their fans even more closely, and are likely to hold transparency and authenticity in high regard because of this. Money isn’t the only thing they’re concerned about – they also vet the brands the work with to ensure that the partnership is a match for their image too. And, if they do have an unfortunate flub, it’s probably not going to be on the same scale that an A or B list celebrity would. Brands should consider their influencers close partners, and require that they uphold the brand’s values – and influencers should do the same for the companies they work with.