Trust, cost & flexibility: Why influencers beat celebrities for brand endorsements

Guest Column: Tiffany Delmore, the co-founder of, observes that combined with their appreciation for grassroots support, influencers know firsthand how important mutual growth is

e4m by Tiffany Delmore
Updated: Oct 20, 2020 4:04 PM
tiffany delmore

For decades, celebrity endorsements have catapulted brands from obscurity to mainstream acclaim. But much has changed in the age of social media.

To many, the glitz and glam of Hollywood don’t shine as bright as an Instagram feed. Brands are increasingly wondering whether influencer endorsements are a smarter way to reach audiences. After all, what is the difference between a celebrity and a social media influencer? Well, it depends on whom you ask.

Strictly speaking, celebrities are influencers and vice versa. But in how most people use the terms, traditional celebrities gained fame from popular films, music, or sports. Influencers are often seen as “normal,” everyday people who shared something that went viral, and the rest is history.

For marketers, the question of influencer v. celebrity endorsement boils down to three things: trust, cost, and flexibility. On each, let’s consider how influencers compare to celebrities, starting with trust.

Trust: influencers win with authenticity

Social media influencers build trust with their followers because of their relatability. Instead of being classically trained to act or perform, influencers stumble into their fame.

They trade on that relatability online. Their content has a level of familiarity that people connect to. There’s no shiny veneer, no massive team of marketers between the influencer and their audience. It’s just them and their subscribers.

Influencers’ familiarity, coupled with their online platform, produces what’s essentially supercharged word-of-mouth marketing. According to Nielsen, a whopping 92% say they trust recommendations from friends — and many think of influencers much like they do friends.

In contrast, audiences may see celebrity endorsements as inauthentic. While online influencers aren’t immune to this, consumers generally see celebrities as less “real.”

Just how much “real” matters may boil down to the generation being targeted. With younger generations, online influencers have the advantage. Their age, choice of platform, and unrefined style tend to resonate more so with Millennials and Gen Z users.

Regardless of their audience, influencers have a home-field advantage online. Even if a celebrity issues an endorsement on traditional TV, much of its airplay is likely to occur on sites like YouTube and Facebook.

For influencers, these platforms are their home. They tend to come off better online because that’s where they’re most comfortable. To many viewers, that ease translates to authenticity. And to marketers, their platform choice means lower costs.

Cost: influencers are cheaper

Influencers’ niche, online nature means their endorsements tend to be cheaper. Depending on their platform and audience size, influencer recommendations can be had as cheaply as $75, with an average cost of $271 per post.

At that level of investment, marketers can afford many influencer endorsements for every celebrity one. What’s more, this makes granular targeting possible. Choosing one or two influencers with clout among the brand’s specific audience segments makes sense.

By pairing your product or service with popular, niche-specific influencers, you’ll maximize your ROI. But even if you find the right influencer to endorse what you’re selling, consider what effect you’re looking for.

Influencers fall into three main categories: micro-influencers, middle influencers, and macro-influencers.

Micro-influencers have smaller, dedicated followings of 10,000 or fewer people. Macro influencers, by comparison, are widely-known social media celebrities. They usually have at least 250,000 followers, though there are some with tens of millions. In between micro and macro is the “power middle,” consisting of influencers with a balance between dedicated followers and high visibility.

While all three kinds of influencers can sell your product, sometimes less is more. Macro-influencers are great if you want to build brand recognition and maximize your reach. But those with smaller audiences often have tighter, more personal connections with their followers. This specificity makes it easier to convert customer engagement into sales.

With that in mind, influencers can be solid endorsement partners for small businesses looking to scale. But most of them are also willing to collaborate in ways many traditional celebrities aren’t.

Flexibility: influencers make great partners

Due to their down-to-earth nature and niche audiences, influencers can make great partners to collaborate with. Without being cordoned off by a PR team, influencers are much more accessible than most celebrities. Combined with their appreciation for grassroots support, influencers know firsthand how important mutual growth is.

Some influencers might be interested in affiliate sales. If you’re trying to scale on a budget, paying for advertising only when it yields sales minimizes wasteful spending. Plus, the commission structure incentivizes influencers to craft great content. The more they sell, the more money both parties stand to make.

As the partnership continues, influencers can provide useful feedback. They can comment on the product itself, as well as how it’s presented.

Collaboration is at the heart of why influencer endorsements are increasingly popular. Marketers want their partners to do more than recite lines. Consumers want to see their money going to real people, not big, nameless corporations.

In a world that’s moving increasingly online, it’s no surprise endorsements are as well. Choose influencers whose passions and audience aligns with your product, and you’ll get better results at an even better price.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of

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