The use of celebrity endorsements in marketing, particularly in the beauty and fashion industries, is by no means a new technique. However, the Internet age and rise of social media ‘influencer’ has created a new wave of personality endorsements that has revolutionised brand marketing.
MAXCONNECTORS is an Australian company that represents social ‘talent’ and their primary clients are makeup and clothing companies that are trying to reach a demographic which is predominantly female and skews young. Their role as an agent connecting clients to media influencers, in the same way as modelling and acting agencies act as a middleman, is by no means a new one in the world of marketing- it is navigating this emerging world of Internet celebrities that is fresh.
Defining a ‘social media influencer’, due to its infant nature, is not yet clear. These personalities are celebrities in their own right- garnering condescension from their ‘illegitimate’ amassing of fans, however also gaining more validity than reality television stars were given in their early years. It is also important to distinguish a social media influencer from a celebrity, such as an actor or pop star, with a large social media following. Social media influencers exist across a wide spectrum of industries; beauty, gaming, tech, travel, food and everything in between, and their Internet presence is based on displaying their personality, lifestyle and personal opinions. Their ability to generate income from an Instagram account comes from selling their social capital in the form of advertising to their followers (Faucher, 2018).
The emergence of the social media influencer has been driven by a combination of cultural shifts. First of all, the rapid growth of Internet users taking up social networking sites and participating in the trend of documenting and sharing one’s life (Perrin, 2015) has provided the form for this phenomenon. Further, the shift which Turner calls the ‘demotic turn’ of media, set the foundation for ‘ordinary people’ to garner enough spectacle to gain such a following (Khamis et al, 2017).
This shift is characterised by the rise of the everyday person across the media, particularly television, as opposed to actors/actresses performing as characters or people of note taking up the public sphere. Reality television, daytime talk and the family game show all provided avenues for people to be broadcasted and gain recognition- as themselves. While the extent to which these programs are scripted and planned distorts the accuracy of the ‘reality’, their façade of realism to the audience created a new type of celebrity based in the entertainment derived from a person’s personality, ultimately epitomised in the example of the Kardashian family.
Khamis notes that these individuals “experience celebrity not despite of their ordinariness, but because of it, since it is a precondition for eligibility”. For many of these influencers, their appeal to audiences is their relatable nature and realness, but simultaneously a level of prestige and glamour in their lifestyle that is slightly out of reach for the viewer- creating an ongoing intrigue (Khamis et al., 2017).
Social networking sites, most notably Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, have provided the platforms for these ‘ordinary people’ to gain access to followings and gain this social capital and influence, rather than requiring the backing of a production company. For many, the way in which the sites differ in their capabilities and sharing purposes allows them to offer multiple facets to their image and present a whole brand to audiences across each platform- such as by uploading candid ‘daily vlogs’ on YouTube, thoughts and musings on Twitter as well as curated, flawless images on Instagram.
An example of how MAXCONNECTORS business operations unfold is as follows;
A beauty brand such as Clinique wishes to promote their new product. While they will likely still use more analogue forms of advertising such as print advertisements and in store marketing, their digital strategy is likely to involve product exposure over social media. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter offer advertising space where the brand may publish their own images and promotions, however the brand may also seek the endorsement of an influencer, such as through a positive review in a YouTube video or a testimonial in the caption of an Instagram post.
Here, Clinique enlists the services of MAXCONNECTORS, who facilitates the process between the influencer and the brand. The brand may select one of the beauty influencers represented by MAXCONNECTORS such as Sammy Robinson, a Sydney based twenty something with 528 thousand followers on Instagram and 677 thousand subscribers on YouTube.
The agreement will likely involve the brand providing Robinson with a quantity of the product they are attempting to advertise, to which she may trial in order to gauge its quality before deciding whether to promote it. MAXCONNECTORS will then negotiate a price for the type of endorsement agreed upon, such as an Instagram post, which is determined by factors such as her audience size and engagement rates. The parties agree upon the nature of the image and the accompanying caption text, as well as the time it will be posted for peak interaction. MAXCONNECTORS takes a commission from the fee paid by Clinique and the result looks something like this:
Robinsons followers are then not only exposed to the product, but it is in the context of a positive affirmation from someone they admire.
This model is by no means revolutionary. Modelling agencies and acting agencies have long been linking their talent to jobs and taking a commission, strategically representing talent that are likely to fill jobs in the industry, cultivating a quality that entices employers to consider their pool of individuals (Baron, 2015).
However, what is new to this model is the diminished bargaining power of the agency. Given the nature of being a ‘influencer’ is exposure and namesake, it is by no means difficult for brands to communicate directly with the social media stars and achieve the same marketing goals through an influencer who is represented. What MAXCONNECTORS is able to offer both brands and influencers is a level of protection and consistency in this new and uncharted territory of marketing.
From the perspective of the brand, the use of people as marketing tools run a risk that forms such as print and radio do not; human inconsistency threatens brand image. A brand hoping to connect a personality and face to their brand for the association of the traits of that person is exposed to individuals mistakes or flaws also being associated with the brand, such as Khamis’ discussion of Tiger Wood’s cheating scandal causing negative brand image for his sponsors such as Nike. To a certain extent, an agency such as MAXCONNECTORS is able to mitigate that risk for the brand through their careful selection of talent and employment of media professionals.
For individuals creating their personal online brand, the reasons to allow an agency to take a commission of their earnings are less to do with the connections they provide, and more so the services they can deliver in curating their image. Influencers are also exposed to the erosion of their brand reputation should they promote products that don’t align with the image they project, they work with companies that operate unethically, and so on.
MAXCONNECTORS is a leader in their field due to the talent that they represent. Lauren Curtis and Chloe Morello, dominate the Australian beauty social media world with over one million followers respectively on Instagram, whilst they also select ‘micro-influencers’, such as Jayme Jo Massoud (who still boasts over 400 thousand followers), to offer brands a diverse scale of pricing and a range of personal brands to align with, as well as boosting the esteem of their MAXCONNECTORS peers through the ‘cheerleader effect’ (Juarez Ramos, 1981).
While marketing has historically had its basis in grasping and maintaining the audience’s attention in order to persuade them, in the age of the attention economy it is a much greater challenge. Referring to the over saturation of information available which is competing for limited human attention (often in the form of ‘clicks’), the attention economy creates an information deficit (Davenport and Beck, 2001).
Given that the number of brands are growing at a faster rate than the population (Teixeira, 2017), the ability for advertisers to gain attention and differentiate themselves is essential to profitability and securing market share, however it is becoming harder to do so. For now, the use of social media advertising is working, with majority of users being either positive or neutral about sponsored posts (Doctor, 2018). Influencers almost epitomise the attention economy in some ways, their content features click bait (YouTube videos with overdramatic, misleading titles), eye catching imagery (high quality, engaging Instagram images) and short, to the point information (such as on photo captions and in Tweets).
The role of MAXCONNECTORS also involves the management of the legalities of the exchange. Not only are the parties entering into a basic service contract, but they are also subject to advertising regulations in Australia, and potentially other parts of the world considering the global nature of the Internet, as well as the countries from which the social media platforms operate (i.e. the United States). These regulations in Australia include monitoring by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which prohibits the publication of misleading or inaccurate information about products- regardless of if it is posted by the brand themselves or on behalf of the brand by someone else.
Social media’s evolution has begun to play an important role in political campaigns, demonstrating how important the curation of one’s online image has become. Chen discusses how the concept of public opinion and its relationship with social media in the digital age. In regards to politics and democracy, public opinion is the be all and end all of success.
Businesses, particularly those who sell consumer goods, are not so different- profit is determined by sales, is determined by whether or not people perceive your product as desirable. Beyond product design, marketing is the primary tool business utilise to convince consumers of a products value.
Chen raises the points discussed by Habermas in regards to the public sphere and its relationship with contemporary concepts of public opinion. He examines the way in which, since the emergence of the educated bourgeoisie, public opinion has largely been formed by those who have the privilege of time and the avenue or audience through which to voice their perspectives. This is to say that ‘public opinion’ is not necessarily an accurate snapshot of what the population is thinking, but more so is projected to those in power through those that dominate the public dialogue, which in a contemporary sense is those in various types of media with large audiences.
These ideas in relation to government and politics explain the role of news distributors in determining election outcomes- what is being said by a respected news outlet may hold the power to convince those running for office what their constituents may be thinking, as well as the power to convince those constituents what to think. In relation to commerce and product sales, the voice of someone deemed to be ‘cool’ may sway those around them into the purchase of products they endorse, whilst also having the power to impact what products are produced.
The digital age has brought a whole new need for businesses to approach marketing differently; companies such as MAXCONNECTORS are leading the way in navigating this new and constantly evolving landscape, as seen below in the way the elements of their business interact.
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