A perfect brand pairing with a famous actor or musician can attract the attention of millions of consumers instantly. The growth of influencer marketing and the Creator Economy are unlocking new opportunities across every type of partnership.
If you’re a growing brand with an appeal to a large audience, celebrity endorsements may be a great addition to your influencer marketing strategy.
What is a celebrity influencer?
A celebrity influencer is any widely-known person. Celebrities typically have millions of social media followers and might also be classified as mega or macro influencers.
In the United States, some of the leading celebrities include:
- Professional athletes
- Famous musicians
- Movie or TV stars
- Best-selling authors
- Business leaders
The world of celebrity-ism has broadened in the last few years, thanks in large part to the rise of social media. Many digital creators have leveraged their unique talents to gain millions of engaged followers on leading social channels like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.
The history of celebrity endorsements
In western history, celebrity endorsements predate the 20th Century when the “influencers” were most often members of royalty.
Higher-end European merchants looked to kings, queens, princes, and princesses for their mark of approval, and once achieved, that retailer had the attention (wallets) of buyers. Royal endorsements were equated with the highest quality. Those with money to spend on the best products took those endorsements seriously, and brands profited from the arrangement.
Royalty is absent in most of today’s leading consumer economies, but endorsements from the rich and famous are alive and well. The amount and success of celebrity endorsements have grown in the last 500 years and has become the broader influencer marketing industry.
What do celebrity endorsements look like today?
Nowadays, consumers are accustomed to brand-celebrity partnerships. Up until recently, most celebrity endorsements took place in television commercials and print ads (newspapers, magazines, billboards, etc.).
Social media and online streaming have dominated media consumption in the last 20 years. As a result, most celebrity endorsements now appear on places like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
In the last five years, brand-celebrity partnerships have become more vibrant due to more celebrities rising within the Creator Economy.
Do celebrity endorsements work?
The short answer is, “Yes.” Which is why so many brands collaborate with celebrities and high-profile influencers today.
“Signing the kinds of endorsers that featured in this study on average generates a 4% increase in sales – which corresponds with around $10 million in additional sales annually – and nearly a 0.25% increase in stock returns.”
– Harvard Business School, The Economic Value of Celebrity Endorsements
For a brand that generates $1 million in monthly sales, 4% means an extra $480,000 a year, not to mention the increased stock value.
But like any marketing approach, everything comes down to your audience and goals. Also, some brands are better than others at building robust relationships with their brand partners, further enhancing a campaign’s authenticity in the eyes of consumers.
Fans view their favorite celebrities as someone who is both familiar and trustworthy. This is especially true if the individual endorses a brand relevant to their craft, such as a model partnering with a cosmetics brand or an athlete promoting performance apparel.
Celebrities versus creators – Which endorsements are better for your brand?
What does it mean to be famous? To some extent, fame lies on a spectrum. Micro influencers are famous among niche audiences of 500,000 followers or less. But we might not call them celebrities in the same way we would Tom Brady or Shakira.
And while creators may become celebrities and some celebrities become creators, the two aren’t quite the same.
In influencer marketing, celebrities usually have 1 million or more followers. Their strength is being known and adored by the masses, and their voice generates more attention than the majority of people in the world.
Creators typically nurture far smaller online communities than most celebrities. But those communities tend to be more engaged. Creators often do a better job at getting their audience to take action on a cause or limited-time offer.
Creators and celebrities each have their strengths. Choosing the right individual for your brand depends on certain factors:
- Your audience
- Where your audience likes to engage
- Your budget
- Your goals
Who is your audience?
Depending on your buyer personas or ideal customer profile, your audience will be more likely to respond positively to a celebrity or creator endorsement. Doing some research on an individual’s audience is a great way to find out which will perform better for your brand.
Where do your prospects like to engage?
If you learn that a large percentage of your audience is into a recent Netflix series, you might consider a partnership with a famous actor on the show. The same is true if you’re an outdoor brand and most of your followers also follow a handful of popular outdoor influencers on Instagram.
The more information you can get about where your buyers spend their time online, the easier it will be to decide whether celebrities or creators are the better fit.
What is your budget?
Celebrities are not cheap, but the returns can be major for the brands that leverage them. And while creators are more affordable, they may not have the notoriety to make a big enough splash for your brand.
It’s important to know what you can reasonably spend and the kind of returns you hope to get from that investment. Smaller brands often do well to invest in nano and micro influencers at first before testing the waters with celebrities. Bigger brands with large marketing budgets can often accomplish far more in a single celebrity endorsement than they could across 100 lesser-known creators.
What do you want your celebrity or creator to accomplish for your brand?
The bigger the name, the more top-of-funnel marketing goals (brand awareness) that individual will help you reach. For bottom-of-funnel goals (conversions), creators with smaller, more engaged audiences usually perform much better.
The ideal approach leverages creators and influencers across all stages of your funnel. As you examine each campaign, your objective will determine which person is a better fit for your brand.
How brands benefit from using celebrities as part of an influencer marketing campaign?
The excitement and fame of a celebrity can overflow onto the brands that they promote. This is known as the Halo Effect.
“When an influencer uses a brand’s product or service, it comes with a halo of trust. The one-on-one social media interaction with someone they admire or aspire to, makes consumers feel seen and heard, deepening their relationship with the influencer.”
– Crisp Thinking, 2020
By the same token, celebrities that agree to a brand partnership recognize that they are leveraging their reputation to back a particular product. Ultimately, the quality of relationship nurtured between both brand and celebrity becomes the ultimate component that elevates a brand in the market.
The pros of working with celebrities
A positive brand mention by a celebrity means instant recognition. This kind of brand awareness can spike your web traffic, social media follows, sales, and more.
This level of recognition has been known to accomplish the following for brands:
- Pull a struggling brand to the top of its industry
- Reach new markets, both national and international
- Inspire reform for a particular cause
- Put distance between a brand and its competitors
- Drive sales for new product lines
The cons of working with celebrities
“Advertising campaigns must be developed skillfully, or there’s a risk that the viewer remembers the celebrity, not the product. Worse still, there’s a risk of a celebrity’s negative attributes or misalignment tearing down the brand. An inauthentic endorsement is worse than no endorsement at all.”
Some marketers report that celebrity endorsements may only benefit the individual’s personal brand over the business brand. This issue is easily remedied through strong, collaborative relationships where the celebrity feels genuine love for your brand and products.
Second, celebrity endorsements don’t come cheap. Most partnerships begin at $5,000 and can go higher than $500,000. Before prospecting from the celebrity pool, be sure that you have a budget in place to set yourself up for success.
Most importantly, remember that celebrities are people capable of thriving relationships that inspire audiences to also become true brand fans.
What is it like to work with a celebrity manager?
Celebrities get brand partnership offers all the time. That’s why most hire a talent manager or agency to help them manage partnership relationships.
Celebrity manager outreach
Celebrity managers exist to make sure that their client gets the best deal possible. Your job as a marketer is to nurture a strong relationship with that manager from the start.
Sometimes the celebrity has an official website with their agent or manager’s contact information visible to the public. Other times, you will need to go through an industry organization, such as the Actor’s Union, National Football League, or university sports department, to find the right person to talk to.
Begin with a professional, concise email about who you are, what the brand is, and the kind of endorsement deal you’re looking for. If you don’t receive a response after a couple business days, send a follow-up or two.
With celebrity endorsements, the relationship you have with that person’s agent is going to set the tone for your relationship with that celebrity. Do your best to keep initial messages pleasant and short until you’re negotiating a deal.
The manager’s cut
Being a talent agent/manager is hard work, since they must vet all endorsement requests and maintain their client’s schedule to accommodate the celebrity’s day job and brand deals.
Agents typically receive between a 10-20% cut of what their client receives from an endorsement deal. This is standard business practice and will factor into your celebrity influencer costs.
Access to more celebrities
The better your relationship with celebrity agents, the greater access you’ll have to other celebrities for future deals. For this reason, building long-term partnerships with the right agents is critical for your brand if celebrity endorsements are a key part of your marketing strategy.
How to get celebrity endorsements
1. Consider your audience.
The celebrity you choose must be important to the people you want to reach. Using a creator management platform to run audience insights reports is one of the best ways to ensure audience alignment.
2. Identify your budget.
What you can afford factors greatly into who you can count on to work with your brand. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice a few thousand followers for a collaborative partnership that fits your budget.
3. Plan to work through an agent or talent manager.
There’s no point trying to contact a celebrity directly. Even if you are lucky enough to get that person’s personal email or phone, sending a cold outreach message is considered by most celebrities to be highly inappropriate.
Great celebrity endorsement deals go through celebrity agents or managers. In early recruiting stages, working with an agent is as close to working directly with the celebrity as you will get, and that’s okay.
It’s important to distinguish between agents/talent managers and influencer networks. Influencer networks do not work for the celebrity – they merely facilitate transactions between brands and influencers. By contrast, agents represent their clients exclusively due to the fact that the celebrity doesn’t have the time to answer every brand offer.
4. Find celebrities that are a good fit for your brand.
Your brand mission, vision, and values should come first when searching for a celebrity partnership. Working with like-minded people ensures that your audience knows exactly who you are and what you stand for.
5. Make your “ask” very clear.
In order to build a good relationship, you should know what you want the person to do, how long the partnership will last, products you want to showcase, and what the compensation package is.
6. Maintain clear communication with your point of contact.
Whether your main point of contact is with an agent or the celebrity, you need to keep in touch and maintain open communication. At the end of the day, your celebrity endorsement campaign is only as strong as the relationship you have with that individual.
Brands who elevated their campaigns with social media celebrity endorsements
One of the most iconic brand-celebrity partnerships in recent years is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Under Armour. In each commercial and post, Johnson highlights the apparel brand as the official clothing of everyday people pushing their physical limits.
The Johnson-Under Armour partnership doesn’t just feature a wrestler-turned-actor with rippling muscles working out in UA accessories; it goes the extra mile to show inclusivity for those with major disabilities choosing to experience life to the fullest. They’ve worked together to make UA a brand for those determined to always “find a way.”
In another example, Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams joined forces with Audi to promote its line of electric vehicles. The first commercial launched during the 2020 Super Bowl with Maisie singing Frozen’s “Let It Go” while driving her EV in city traffic.
Fans of GOT resonated with the campaign that promoted humor, renewable energy, and mindfulness in situations that most people find stressful.
Celebrity endorsements are among the most profitable types of influencer marketing campaigns today. But like any strategy, authenticity is key. You can achieve success with celebrity partners so long as you know your audience, and you are clear on what you hope to accomplish in your campaigns.