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Brand Spokesperson Smackdown: Famous Face vs. Social Media Rockstar?

Business.com / Public Relations / Last Modified: May 21, 2018
Image credit: Quka/Shutterstock

When it comes to PR brand spokespersons, has the social media influencer eclipsed the mainstream celebrity? It depends on the campaign. Consider these pros and cons for each the next time you need a new mouthpiece.

When it comes to PR campaigns, is the traditional celebrity brand spokesperson dead?

With so many companies shifting their budgets to influencer marketing, you’d certainly believe that’s the case. But still, there are plenty of recent celebrity-brand collaborations, such as this attention-grabbing Shutterfly x Blake Lively event where a little star power turned an average Mother’s Day celebration into international news. Plus, it’s no longer necessarily more cost-effective to choose an influencer over a mainstream celebrity, as many social media mavens today demand exorbitant fees in exchange for brand affiliations and access to their followings.

So, the celebrity brand spokesperson is not only far from extinct, but they're thriving, even among all the influencer brand ambassadors and collaborators currently threatening to take their place. The secret is in knowing which one to use, or even better, finding one who qualifies as both. (Think reality star Katie Maloney-Schwartz from "Vanderpump Rules," a.k.a. the inspiration behind the wildly popular website, Pucker and Pout.)

In addition, it’s important to establish the goal of the campaign and then define the brand spokesperson’s role in achieving it. As is the case with all PR/marketing initiatives, the strategies are not cut and dried. There will always be exceptions to the rule. But here are general guidelines to consider the next time you need a new brand mouthpiece.

The Value of the Traditional Celebrity

Boost Earned Media Coverage

If the main goal is to make a big splash or garner exposure, then usually a mainstream celebrity media darling is still the best route to take. After all, you don’t see the paparazzi stalking social media influencers—at least not yet! So, if you need to score Us Weekly red carpet coverage or a "Good Morning, America" segment, stick with a household name.

Create a Halo Effect

Does your industry need more positive vibes or street credibility? Look no further than Leonardo DiCaprio, the poster boy for the edgy vape lifestyle. An association with the right celebrity can elevate the image and stature of just about any brand category. People just assume there must be something great about it if the celebrity is affiliated with it.

Draw a Crowd

While red-hot influencers are starting to generate long lines of their own at book-signings and trades, a traditional celebrity brand spokesperson is still the better bet if your aim is to attract an audience IRL. (Emphasis on IRL, as influencers definitely rival them in the virtual world!)

Stay on Brand Message

Actors and TV personalities are skilled at delivering lines and are therefore more likely to stay on brand message than their impulsive, impromptu influencer counterparts. And given their training and experience, they know better than anyone else how to strike a pose guaranteed to capture major media coverage while providing subtle brand awareness in the same shot.

The Virtue of the Influencer

Target a Niche

There are influencers for just about every niche and demographic conceivable, from vegans and fitness buffs to video gamers and book lovers. If your particular campaign, or even your brand as a whole, qualifies as niche, then an influencer in your space is the perfect brand spokesperson. For starters, their followers can be a gold mine for finding and targeting potential new customers. Amateur cake decorators or photography buffs are just naturally going to turn to experts who share their passion or lifestyle.

Amplify Engagement 

Through the simple fact that they are more responsive, influencers usually garner more engagement than celebrities in the virtual world. When a fan tweets at their favorite celebrity, they don’t really expect to get a response. It’s the exact opposite with influencers — especially those who realize they can exponentially grow their followings with fast and personalized replies to their peeps.

For this reason, micro-influencers, who have smaller followings but greater engagements, are in big demand right now: This group of influencers can connect with their fans on a more individualized basis given that there are fewer of them. (That said, a micro-influencer is best suited to be part of a “brand ambassador” program where reach is obtained collectively as opposed to serving as an overall “brand spokesperson.”)

Or course, it also depends on the topic and the platform. According to this infographic posted on Invespcro’s blog, Instagram currently boasts the highest engagement. But it differs by niche, so be sure to do your homework.

Drive Sales

Over the past several years, there have been a number of different research studies, such as this one from Olapic’s Psychology of Following, that claim influencers drive sales. In this particular report, more than “31 percent of consumers across the U.S. and Europe said they have purchased a product or service based on a social influencer post.”

Gone are the days when consumers bought cereal simply based on the famous face gracing the box or invested in an expensive car just because their favorite celebrity drove it. This still might be a factor in their decision, but it's not the only one anymore. In the age of transparency, consumers know and accept that celebrities can be bought for their brand endorsements. Therefore, they want additional third-party opinions from more credible, trustworthy sources, like influencers, before making a purchase.

Execute Multiple Activations 

Influencers definitely have more control over their schedules than celebrities. An actor could get a part in a new movie overnight, sending their confirmed plans with you into chaos in a heartbeat. In addition, celebrities can be spontaneous and unpredictable when it comes to time-off from their “real work.”  For example, they may decide at the last minute that they just don’t feel like walking your red carpet event. In short, it can be a challenge to book a celebrity for even a five minute New York Times phone interview.

So, choose an influencer if you need someone who has the flexibility as well as the motivation to make your gig(s) a priority in their busy life.

When it comes to selecting your next brand spokesperson, celebrities and influencers both have their share of pros and cons. And once you’ve determined which is best, then the actual work begins. But that's a topic for another day.

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