How Influencer Marketing Is Upending Traditional Advertising

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Once upon a time, seeing a movie star in a 30-second TV ad was enough to get viewers to go out and buy the product. But consumers are far more critical these days. The old advertising paradigm of slapping a well-known face on an ad and hoping it will convince shoppers has faded. In its place, a far more intimate—and powerful—phenomenon known as influencer marketing.

Heard It From a Friend

If you’ve already been to McDonald’s for the Travis Scott Meal, or ordered “The Charli” at Dunkin, you’re familiar with the concept of influencer marketing. In both these cases, a well-liked social media influencer pairs with an established fast food brand to encourage their followers to eat how they eat. If you’re a fan of Travis Scott’s music, you can head to the McDonald’s to order a quarter pounder with cheese, a medium fries with barbecue sauce, and a Sprite with extra ice, just like the rapper himself would. As for Charli d’Amelio’s 90 million TikTok followers, they can dance down to Dunkin and order “The Charli,” the influencer’s personal go-to drink, which is a cold brew iced coffee with whole milk and caramel swirl.

While celebrity endorsements are nothing new, most Millennial and Gen Z consumers get their entertainment from ad-free online streaming, or through social media. That means that young consumers are unlikely to even see TV commercials. Moreover, these are generations raised on the internet. They are far too savvy and critical of media to fall for a traditional TV spot where a celebrity reads lines about a product some company wants them to buy.

But influencer marketing may be even more powerful than the celebrity endorsement of yesteryear. In fact, Business Insider estimates that it could be a $15 billion industry by 2022. That’s because, unlike a commercial, which can feel intrusive and disingenuous, social media influencers have built-in, authentic relationships with their followers. Instagram and TikTok, among other platforms, allow young stars to show off their everyday life, giving adoring fans an unfettered glimpse into their personalities. Hence, when Charli tells you her favorite Dunkin order, it feels like a recommendation from a friend, not a plea from some profit-seeking corporation.

Power to the (Spokes)people

That profit-seeking corporation, meanwhile, has been smart to close a deal with the young influencer. With 90 million followers on TikTok alone, the dancer and model had an invaluable audience at her disposal. By partnering with Charli, Dunkin can access this massive field of potential coffee drinkers before they’ve even developed a caffeine addiction.

And in turn, those who order the Charli coffee or the Travis Scott meal enthusiastically post about it on their own social accounts, enticing their friends to check out the products themselves. In other words, a powerful influencer campaign can get young people to promote products without being paid! Word-of-steam replaces word-of-mouth. But none of this would be possible if not for the media savvy influencers at the top, who develop fan bases before they even have a product to sell. In the long run, the success of influencer marketing could mean more power to the spokespeople, and less to the companies they represent.

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