Fame vs. Followers: How Millennials are Redefining the Role of Celebrities

Posted by: Olivia Ledbetter

Glance at a Millennial wish list and you might see cheeky Beyoncé prayer candles or a subscription to Chip and Joanna Gaines’ lifestyle publication, The Magnolia Journal. While a skimpily-clad Queen Bey and the conservative Gaines family may seem entirely different, they have a common thread in their popularity: they feel respected and real to Millennials.

After a decade of the Kardashian dynasty ruling celebrity culture, types like the Kris Jenner clan are declining as a new breed of famous individuals are developing. The lessening of celebrity endorsements serves as an example of this shift in culture. While linking a product to a famous individual used to pack a marketing punch, Millennial consumers have become much more skeptical of celebrity endorsements. This shift is most likely driven by the internet, where it’s easier for people to find authentic and relatable reviews, as well as content that feels peer-led. As familiar face alone no longer holds appeal – Millennials are looking for celebrities that are not just recognizable but relatable.

Goodbye wild and wacky, hello relatable

The most popular modern celebrities are engaging with common cultural desires as they represent and take stances on movements.  With worries about race relations up 17 percent from 2014, it makes sense that a social justice warrior like Beyoncé has become a cultural icon for fans. In a time where newscasts are filled with updates on movements like Black Lives Matter in a highly divided political climate, listeners appreciate that Beyoncé is providing a voice for minorities. Fans feel connected to her as she is engaging with the same culture they’re living in and addressing topics they are also struggling with.

It’s not just social justice warriors that are engaging with culture: family lifestyles can also resonate with Millennial desires. As people are marrying later and having to put off purchasing their dream home for financial reasons, the family-centered life of Chip and Joanna Gaines provides a polished glimpse into the marital bliss that Millennials still desire. Many Millennials entered the workforce during or directly after the Great Recession, which has led to a lack of savings and the financial stability needed to purchase a home. The Gaines family embody a relatable family dynamic, while also representing a common Millennial desire for familial and housing stability.  Celebrities like Chip and Jo still have touches of that “good life” fantasy that draws fans in, but the overwhelming appeal of them is their own authenticity.

The messages of modern celebrities matter, and so do the platforms where Millennials are actually discovering those celebrities. Now, internet personalities can be as influential as big-name stars of the past. The one-way communication of TV is not the entertainment platform of choice for Millennials, who are instead going online to watch YouTube and social media influencers who feel more like peers. Seventy percent of Millennials report that they relate more to online content creators than traditional celebrities. A large part of why these YouTube and social media personalities are more popular (aside from their relatability) is that they understand the need to cultivate relationships and drive engagement.

Viewers feel like YouTube giants such as Tyler Oakley and Zoella “get” them better than famous stars of the past – these content creators are undoubtedly famous but can still have a conversation from their living room, not a private island. The direct interactions of comments and likes make viewers feel like they can actually relate to these new celebrities, with 40 percent of Millennial subscribers even admitting that they feel like their favorite content creators understand them better than their friends.

The marketing impact of the  re-interpretation of the modern celebrity

Millennials are seeking people they can both relate to and respect. They exalt the names of individuals who feel approachable and want the people they admire to understand and engage with their lives and desires as fans.  As seen in their like of online personalities and relatable, social-forward celebrities, the Millennial generation desires two-way communication. What does this mean for marketers? Brands are valued more highly if they can find ways to have conversations with consumers instead of talking at them — and paying big bucks for a celebrity cameo isn’t necessarily the way to go. Understanding the balance of representing both inspiration and relatability is the key for marketers to successfully engage with Millennials.

Remember: who and what is popular will always be evolving (just like brands), but actually engaging with Millennials will never fail to make your message meaningful. Shared values and communication that doesn’t feel fake for cameras or capital gain? That’s sure to be the next big thing.

About Olivia Ledbetter

As the 2017 Editorial Intern for Barkley, Olivia understands that great thinking needs a groundwork of solid strategy before it can become truly visionary. Her background in copywriting and creative writing has cultivated her belief...See Olivia's full bio.