Pop quiz: what famous celebrity do you associate with JELL-O pudding? I’m guessing you had no problems coming up with Bill Cosby, which isn’t surprising given the fact that his spokesperson relationship with JELL-O lasted nearly thirty years. For those of us of a certain age — *ahem* – Cosby’s homey kid-friendly delivery will forever be linked with a creamy dessert product. (Not to mention Pudding Pops, which Kraft tragically discontinued.)
Companies have been using celebrity spokespeople for decades, with varying degrees of success. While hiring A-listers to promote products will likely always be a popular marketing strategy for certain multimillion-dollar brands, savvy businesses are tapping into a new model of using endorsements to boost a brand’s profile and credibility.
The idea is to adopt a broader definition of what makes an effective spokesperson. Musicians, actors, and professional athletes are incredibly expensive, and the resulting campaigns are often difficult to measure.
For some companies, it’s far more valuable to hire an affordable spokesperson with a track record of good ROI. Someone with a built-in community, social reach, and real world expertise in brand collaboration.
That’s where online publishers come in. It may seem far-fetched that a blogger has the potential to wield as much influence as, say, Bill Cosby — but the fact is, times have changed. When it comes to influencing purchasing decisions, celebrities simply don’t hold the sway they used to. And bloggers — independent website publishers — are powerful influencers.
Here’s a case study from an Altimeter Group research presentation that covers an enterprise technology company’s campaign:
Consumers Trust Bloggers More Than Celebrities
It’s become a common joke that you can’t trust what you read on the internet, but research shows that more and more, consumers are looking to bloggers before they buy. The most popular online publishers tend to be honest and transparent when they talk about products and services, which drives their credibility. By repeatedly connecting with their audience and establishing their areas of expertise, bloggers become trusted sources of information.
In fact, a 2011 survey conducted by BlogHer and co-sponsored by global communications firm Ketchum found that bloggers’ endorsements wield more influencing power than celebrities. Twenty percent of women that use social media are motivated to consider products promoted by a blogger they know, while only 13 percent are motivated by celebrity endorsements.
Additional findings from the study:
• 53 percent of U.S. blog readers that are female have purchased a product based on a blog recommendation.
• Almost half (47%) of U.S. blog readers tap into blogs for finding new trends or ideas, 35% for finding out about new products, and one in four for help with making a purchasing decision.
• The #1 reason the general population trusts blog advice: their satisfaction with past purchases based on blog recommendations. (In other words, trust begets trust.)
This research aligns with Technorati’s 2013 Digital Influence Report, which shows a growing trend of consumers turning to blogs when looking to make a purchase. The report found that blogs are now the third most influential digital resource when it comes to buying goods and services.
Traditional Spokespeople Can Create Market Confusion
When Leesa Eichberger first took the chief marketing job for Jenny Craig, she was overwhelmed by the number of people that told her they just loved what Jennifer Hudson was doing for the brand. The problem with this well-meaning compliment is that Jennifer Hudson doesn’t promote Jenny Craig at all — she’s the celebrity spokesperson for Weight Watchers.
As of August of 2013, Jenny Craig had announced they were ditching the big celebrity endorsement fees for an animated campaign. Of the historically popular star-powered spots among weight-loss companies, Eichberger said, “The category just has a sea of same.”
Can consumers even remember which highly paid celebs hype which products? Or if they do remember, will they care? Interestingly, a study by Ace Metrix, a syndicated ad testing specialist, revealed that ads without celebrities rate slightly better with consumers than ads with celebrities.
The problem isn’t just in confusing who’s hawking what, it has to do with the polarizing nature of A-listers. Thanks to modern tabloid culture, people tend to have strong opinions one way or the other about any given celebrity. By hiring a famous face, you might hook half your target market — while alienating everyone else.
Online Publishers Give Better ROI
Determining return on campaign investment can be tricky business when you spend millions on a 30-second TV spot. Sponsoring an online publisher means you don’t just get the promotion, you get the metrics. A publisher with social media influence can amplify their spokesperson role with appearances, blog posts, social marketing, contests, and more — and everything can be tracked and measured.
Brands can save time and money by working with agencies that represent online publishers, because they know how to negotiate for the best value. Even more critically, they can leverage analytical software like HootSuite, SproutSocial, Google Analytics or in-home proprietary systems to optimize campaigns and collect valuable data.
Bloggers are much less expensive than a traditional celebrity spokesperson, with day rates that run between $5K – $20K (or even much less, depending on the blogger’s experience and visibility). Along with those more affordable prices, brands often get more impact in terms of trackable impressions, and even traditional media interest.
Many bloggers are frequent guests on morning shows, making them an easy pitch to producers. Plus, sponsored bloggers have more flexibility than a high profile celebrity, because they aren’t restricted from brand-focused national appearances the way celebrity spokespeople can be.
The Right Partnership Reaps Endless Opportunities
Brands using celebrities are often hoping for an aspirational connection, even though the lifestyle of a Hollywood star or famous athlete isn’t particularly relatable at all for most of us.
Bloggers, on the other hand, represent a unique intersection of celebrity and “person like me.” When they talk about a product, their audience can relate to the experience.
I’ve been a Target fan forever. In fact one of the main selling points my husband used to get me to move to Brooklyn was that we’re now two stops from Target.
When a well-connected online publisher is legitimately passionate about a brand, what you get is an organic marketing partnership that truly resonates.
By moving away from the paper-thin fantasy that celebrities sell, brands get more mileage from bloggers whose lifestyle and personal values mesh with their target audience and demographics.
Community Is Everything
Online publishers have extremely close ties to their communities, and they’re accessible and authentic. The smart investment is to find amazing bloggers that are extraordinary not because of their worldwide fame, but because of their ability to connect with people.
Marketing gains traction online from communities that share information and learn from one another. At the end of the day, trust drives action. While celebrities have an audience, they don’t necessarily inspire trust… or wield the community influence brands are looking for.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.