Head to Head: Will the economy of celebrity and influencer endorsement recover after the COVID-19 crisis?

In this series, Mumbrella invites senior PR professionals to share their opposing views on the industry's biggest issues. This week, Jules Lund, founder of Tribe, and OPR's CEO, Richard Brett, go head to head on whether the economy of influencers and celebrity endorsements will recover after one-too-many blunders.

The COVID-19 crisis has seen a series of blunders from celebrities and influencers, sparking a growing sense of disillusionment amongst the public as they fail to acknowledge their privilege.

From Gal Gadot’s ‘Imagine’ video, to Ellen Degeneres likening quarantining in her mansion to being in prison, and Australian influencers promoting online poker machines, these moments have been dubbed tone deaf to the struggles the majority of the world’s population are facing, and those involved have received tremendous backlash.

With some observers speculating that COVID-19 could change consumer behaviour and perceptions forever, this sparks the question: will people return to idolising influencers and celebrities when this is over? Will the economy of celebrity and influencer endorsement recover after the COVID-19 crisis?

Jules Lund, founder of Tribe, believes that influencer marketing will not just recover, but improve, as businesses streamline their marketing strategies and the most effective influencers rise to the top.

However, CEO of OPR, Richard Brett, believes that consumer sentiment towards influencers had already begun to change prior to COVID-19. Now, as people are valuing authenticity and compassion more than ever in isolation, ‘look-at-me’ content will become a thing of the past, he says.

Will the economy of celebrity and influencer endorsement recover after the COVID-19 crisis?

Jules Lund, founder of Tribe, argues ‘Yes’: 

“I’m confident, and quietly excited, that sub-standard influencer marketing execution will die as a result of COVID-19. But the same can be said of any poorly executed creative or media strategy post COVID-19 – the shakeout on our industry will first impact those who cut corners, and sadly many who don’t.

“This effectively removes the influencers and influencer agencies who think that influencer marketing is simply holding up products and smiling awkwardly. Likewise, we’ll see far fewer influencers and celebrities who are tone-deaf to cultural sensitivities during and after COVID-19.

“This leaves us with a streamlined category of quality creators and expert distributors. True, many influencers have poorly executed during this time, but many more have shown their unique value as brands rush to produce iso-creative and hit eyeballs via social. Influencers miraculously complete both in a single process.

“Whilst governments fumbled with social distancing messaging that can only be described as ‘functional’, delivered via live TV addressed to mums and dads, influencers cut to the chase with #stayhome content, and reached those who ignore free-to-air.

“There has never been a more significant moment for influencers to show their worth. Brands have needed content quickly, marketers have switched more budgets to social, and governments still need help crafting messages that younger audiences will not only understand, but listen to.

“Influencer marketing has proven its worth during COVID-19, and will continue to do so for a long time to come.”

Richard Brett, CEO of OPR, argues ‘No’:

“Even before the current crisis, we were seeing an interesting new counter-celebrity narrative with a sharp focus on authenticity.

“Engagement was moving away from showing off perfection to a new breed of real, uncelebrated heroes. These new heroes were changing the game in terms of grabbing attention and generating interest.

“Influencers like Emma Chamberlain, Jazzy Anne, Joana Ceddia and of course Celeste Barber all reject the notion of a curated feed in favour of a messier and more unfiltered vibe. It’s real and audiences were connecting.

“Then as the COVID-19 crisis swept across the world, we started seeing thousands of amazing acts of kindness. Authenticity, compassion and everyday heroes are what we want to celebrate. #clapforourcarers went from one post to a global phenomenon in just a few days.

“In this crisis there is a sense of coming together; of government, business and the community doing what they can to support each other. This is very much at odds with the look-at-me, high-quality images of perfect bodies on endless holidays we revered just a few months ago. They just aren’t going to fly during, or after, this crisis.

Vanity Fair recently reported on all those celebrities and influencers getting it right and wrong. Those getting it wrong have been asking fans to donate despite their fortune; whilst others are still showing off their perfect life across multiple homes despite the lockdown. Those getting it right (such as Kylie Jenner) are stepping up and donating money and making hand sanitiser. Madonna concluded that COVID-19 is ‘the great equaliser’.

“So whilst influencers and celebrities (and their endorsements), are here to stay, the narrative has changed: acts of kindness, celebrating the previously unsung heroes, and the reality of everyday imperfection are now what matters.”

  • As told to Zoe Wilkinson. If you’re a senior PR professional who would like to take part in a future Head to Head, please email zoew@mumbrella.com.au

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