Gen Z and a “New” Wave of Celebrities

Posted by: Angie Read

If you’re still banking on the Beyonces, Taylor Swifts and Justin Biebers of the world to blast marketing messages to your consumers, you’re wasting both time and money.

Collaborating with social influencers and content creators in their respective channels of prominence has overtaken the traditional celebrity endorsement. Brands benefit from the halo of trust and authenticity offered by “real people” sharing “real” content with their fans and followers. According to a recent Cassandra report by digital agency Deep Focus, 63 percent of respondents from Generation Z reported they would rather be marketed to by “real people” than celebrities. And according to a Variety poll, eight out of the 10 most “approachable, authentic and influential” people for today’s teen audience are YouTube stars.

With the rise of social media influencers to their own “star status,” how do marketers tell the difference? Or more importantly, how do they decide which influencers are worth their investment and make sense for their brand?

New Engagement Rules

Traditionally, celebrities become famous through their involvement in film, television, fashion, music or sports. They gain admiration based primarily on their skills in these areas. As such, celebrity endorsements have typically allowed brands to harness a celebrity’s popularity to increase brand recognition and value.

Social media influencers, on the other hand, have risen to “fame” just by being themselves – or perhaps hyper-exaggerated versions of themselves. They created communities of followers based on genuine shared interests and ideas and earned the admiration of their followers because of the friendship and trust they provided. Think with Google even describes Gen Z’s relationship with social media influencers as “friendship” rather than “fanship.” As a result, social media influencers have overtaken the industries of fashion/beauty, gaming, travel, food, home/living and fitness.

Brands can create genuine word-of-mouth marketing if they tap into the trusted communities that social media influencers have built. When brand content feels like it’s coming from a friend and supporter rather than someone paid to represent a product, it resonates with not only Gen Z but all modern consumers. And while influencers are often paid by the brands they endorse, most make the choice of only aligning with the brands that truly showcase their authentic voice and personal expertise or interest. Because of this, their followers believe that they won’t “sell out” to brands just for a paycheck, which further supports the brands in question.

While some may contend that, because of the pay, social media influencers are no different than celebrity endorsements, it’s still a key way of reaching Gen Z.

“Influencer marketing has evolved into just another paid channel – it’s no different than a TV spot or a print ad,” says Jessica Liu, Forrester analyst. “However, Gen Z doesn’t necessarily care. For them, it’s more about their perceived connection with the influencer, and they don’t care if that person is being paid to promote a brand or not. They’re still more likely to listen.”

And there is undoubtedly some gray areas between what constitutes a celebrity versus a social media influencer in the current market. After all, think about the Kardashians. Sure, they rose to fame because of a reality show, but they continue to expand their fandom through social media mega-stardom. As a result, the youngest two, Kendall and Kylie, relate far more to Gen Zers than the original trio of Kourtney, Kim and Khloe.

So, what does this all mean for brands?

  • Engage and make connections with influencers to foster positive, mutually-beneficial relationships.
  • Let influencers take the wheel, but target influencers who love your product and embody the brand’s values.
  • Continually seek new influencers to remain on the pulse of culture and trends, and don’t be afraid to leverage micro-influencers.

Want more on Gen Z? Stay tuned for Jeff Fromm & Angie Read’s new book, Marketing to Gen Z, coming Spring 2018. Pre-order here!

About Angie Read

Angie Read is Vice President of Growth Insight at Barkley. She has 20+ years of consumer marketing and public relations experience for brands including Sprint, Hallmark, Huhtamaki, Dearfoams, Foot Petals and baggalini, as well as...See Angie's full bio.

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