By TJ Kiely

November 8th, 2017

Who would you choose to endorse your product or service?

Would it be Grammy-winning artist Justin Bieber, NBA All-Star Stephen Curry or, maybe, supermodel Chrissy Teigen?

Image: A KFC advertisement featuring Cristiano Ronaldo

Well, David Schwab, an EVP of Octagon and founder of the company’s celebrity strategy business – First Call, has worked with them all, but the brand-celebrity endorsement deals that he has brokered aren’t about getting the biggest star of the moment to pose in front of the camera with product in hand – in fact, he doesn’t even think about a particular celebrity until the very final stages of the deal.

In a phone interview with Schwab, he stated, “When building an influencer marketing program or hiring any type of celebrity talent, a lot of people like to start with the who – but you should start with the why, what and how, and then you can get to the who.”

Here, Schwab is referencing the process that his celebrity talent agency utilizes when pairing brands with various celebrity talent, which states, “Celebrity strategy begins with WHY, HOW and WHEN, then WHO.”

And, according to Schwab, “The who has changed quite a bit since we started this 15 years ago. The whos originally were athletes and musicians. That world changed when TV channels exploded. That’s when National Geographic, Discovery, the Cooking Channel, TLC, etc., all of a sudden produced these industry experts that now had a medium to spread their message – and thus an audience.”

Given the amount of time that people spend in front of the TV today (no, TV isn’t dead), it seems completely normal to a millennial like myself that TV personalities such as Mike Rowe and Oprah are endorsing products like Viva paper towels and Weight Watchers in commercials, but Schwab points out that this was not always the case.

Image: Mike Rowe endorsing Viva paper towels

He continues by telling me that the explosive adoption of TV wasn’t the only time that technology expanded the realm of celebrity talent, saying, “it exploded again with the advancement of social platforms, and thus everybody had a voice. So there have been a couple different points in time along the way that have changed and increased the number of the whos a brand could consider.”

Today, ‘celebrity’ has become more attainable than ever before through the democratization of technology. And, as the availability of and access to digital publishing tools continues to increase, so too does the pool of celebrity talent that brands have to choose from.

The changing celebrity hierarchy
There are around 2.5 billion active social media users around the world, which demonstrates the incredible number of voices being broadcast over the internet today.

But before social media entered our lives, Schwab says, “at one point in time, there were certain categories of people that could be used to reach an audience, and those were the traditional celebrities. But platforms like TV channels and social networks allowed other people to not just have a voice, but have a voice with impact because their audience could follow them.”

The rise of the social media star and industry expert is particularly evident on social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram where a myriad of “normal” people with a myriad skills and talents have successfully leveraged their access to social channels to share their voice and grow an audience. Here, once-ordinary individuals such as Michelle Phan and Cameron Dallas have built up enough of a following that they have become household names – earning them several brand endorsement deals in the process.

Although relatively new on the scene, these new social media celebrities are quickly gaining ground on their traditional celebrity counterparts. According Clapit research, one in eight millennials believe that movie stars will become irrelevant in the future and 70% of teenagers on YouTube say that they identify more with the influencers on the channel than traditional celebrities. However, this new wave of “nobodies” rising up through the celebrity ranks isn’t necessarily a good thing for brands.

Schwab says that now “there are so many people to choose from and there are so many messages going out – it is hard for a person or a brand to standout.” This means that there is “a bigger challenge for brands and agencies to create the right strategy and then use the right people to share that message.” But with 95 million photos shared daily on Instagram, how can a brand stand out on social media?

Building a star-studded strategy
When asked how he and his team are combating all of the clutter on social media, Schwab says that when building a celebrity endorsement deal, “We are making sure that the use of the talent is appropriate for the brand’s audience and trying to create programming, or make sure that a brand has programming, where the message has value for the influencer and has value for the audience.”

Having an authentic connection between a brand and the influencer is essential because, according to a Bloglovin’ survey, 59% of respondents said that they would not engage with content that appears to be inconsistent with an influencer’s feed.

While emphasizing the greater need for authenticity and relevancy in influencer marketing programs today, Schwab reiterated his point that when building a campaign, “before you can get to the who, you have to determine why you are using people to spread a message on a social platform. What is the objective for a particular brand, because it is different for everybody. Once you have determined that, then you can figure out what is the most appropriate type of content and what is value exchange for everybody. And then you can figure out who is the best person to deliver or engage in that way.”

Schwab says that too often brands “fall in love with somebody without thinking through the benefits and the risks of the particular person, and have not flushed out objectives for why you are using somebody.”

This is why he believes that today “there is too much of a message pushed at an audience instead of including an audience in a message or a program” through influencers on social media.

Creating value through brand-celebrity endorsements
“A one-off social post does not allow for a connection between a brand and an influencer’s audience. It is like buying a billboard that people go by and see,” says Schwab.

And with people scrolling through 300 ft. of content every day, those “billboard” posts aren’t going to generate the type of engagement that brands may be counting on – or paying for. This is partly because, “Audiences are smart. They see through things in the world of clutter. They sniff stuff out and let it go by.”

Image: Giphy

Understanding that audiences expect to be spoken to, and not at, on social media platforms is why his agency is “challenging and recommending brands to come up with ways to engage with the audience instead of just sending a message to them.” This, he says, could be done by involving the audience in the influencer program, including the audience in the collaboration with the influencer or even by soliciting feedback from the audience to better your own marketing plans or business objectives.

In the future, Schwab says he hopes “we are creating programs where we are using people to influence the community with ideas and content and experiences that provide value to the audience, the influencer and the brand.”

And if the potential for brand-celebrity partnerships is truly “limitless” as he believes, we’ll all just have to wait and see if brands listen to his agency’s message and refine their strategies to avoid being lost in a sea of social media clutter.

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