Blurred idols: strategies for recruiting brand ambassadors
A view from Theo Izzard-Brown

Blurred idols: strategies for recruiting brand ambassadors

Younger millennials aged 16 to 20 see regular and social celebrities equally in terms of popularity, according to research by McCann.

In the words of Madonna, "Fame is a by-product. It's not a goal. What matters is loving your work and loving what you do". That may be true, but what if you could begin with fame and grow to love your work as you get better at it?

That’s an increasingly realistic prospect in a world where rapid fame is made possible through the power of new platforms. Success can be more readily quantified than before – and not through achievements, but by likes and followers.

Growing a following of 10,000 can lead to tangible rewards including book deals and access to YouTube’s Creator studios. And brands are paying attention.

It’s no wonder that our recent Truth About Youth study, which interviewed 11,000 young people globally, revealed 16- to 20-year-olds perceive celebrity through a new lens, in which traditional and social celebrities hold equal importance and influence.

The result is a flattening of celebrity, where the gap between the average Jemima and a person of influence has narrowed.

It’s an interesting and thoroughly modern phenomenon, not only from an anthropological perspective, but also a marketing one.

Social celebrity works differently to traditional celebrity

The distinction between what you represent and who you are is disappearing, and that can lead to mistakes being made. For social celebrities, fame can be a volatile and short-lived experience in which one misjudged tweet can turn you from hero to pariah.

Meanwhile, those celebrated for their accomplishments are usually more easily forgiven by the public.

Influence of any kind comes with strings attached

With greater emotional proximity comes a change in the nature of the relationship influencers have with followers – and indeed the brands they elect to cooperate with. Integrity and authenticity are arguably more important for the online world than the offline world.

While celebrity endorsements previously meant cash in exchange for bestowed kudos regardless of brand fit, there’s now much more focus upon reciprocity. Appealing to your core is central, as is creating credible partnerships that are emblematic of one’s values.

What this mean for brands

1.One size doesn’t fit all

Brands need to ensure that they provide something for everyone, and so celebrity of all altitudes has a role to play. It’s never either or, but both.

A-list attracts broad mass appeal while social celebrity can deliver depth and credibility amongst collectives of niche audiences. But the real magic is in blending both together, as exemplified by the recent L’Oréal #TrueMatch campaign where Cheryl Cole sits alongside social influencers, each telling their story on equal terms.

2. Authenticity plays both ways

Don’t just think about your brand’s audience, but your audience’s audience. While brands have traditionally aimed their message directly at the end user, the rise of social media celebrities offers huge opportunity.

These ambassadors can act as brand accelerants but recognize they desire content that they can repurpose to amplify their own fame. The transaction can benefit both sides – so long as the content fits with what their personal brand stands for.

3. Know what you’re for not what you have to say

Don’t start with "what’s our message?" Instead ask "what will people be interested in hearing?" Today’s media landscape demands extra flexibility, and that starts from understanding what you’re about as a brand.

Ricky Gervais puts his success with The Office down to writing what he loved first and the audience coming later. It’s important to uncover the meaningful role you can play in peoples’ lives.

So consider this. Would Elvis have retained the same untouchable appeal if he’d daily uploaded pictures of his peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwiches?

Like all symbols of affluence and aspiration, scarcity and limitation of access used to be a key measure and human nature dictates that we will always be intrigued by mythic status.

While there is most certainly a place for social media celebrity, those who can truly achieve a touch of mystery will have the staying power.

Theo Izzard-Brown is head of strategy at McCann London.