‘Authenticity is Vital in a Post-COVID World’ by Managing Director, Emma Shuldham
In this new climate, there’s no denying that there has been a shift in sentiment around celebrity and influencer marketing. Covid-19 has united the global population as one in facing the crisis but it has also highlighted the stark differences between the haves and have nots, and along with it our waning tolerance for a world of excess and empty product placements. As consumers begin to show signs of distaste for #Ad, celebrities and influencers are being held under a magnifying glass. Gal Gadot’s well-meaning ‘Imagine’ rendition alongside the A-list elite was met with disdain and mockery, and celebrities are being criticised for displaying their difficulty in coping with the pandemic from their Hollywood mansions. Everyone is accountable now.
During a time like this, do people want – or need – to see a celebrity or an influencer in a magazine or as part of an endorsement? Who are our real heroes? Last month, UK weekly magazine Grazia honoured NHS workers in their ‘From The Frontline’ special edition issue. Grazia’s Lauren Hollyoake said: “The cover shoot was like none I’ve ever worked on; shot in a matter of minutes in the car parks of NHS hospitals, maintaining social distancing, before Dr Janitha Gowribalan, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, paramedic Sarah Blanchard and nurse Richenda Browne went back to their day jobs – saving lives.” These women are not Academy Award winners, nor are they idolised on social platforms sharing their skin routines. They are ‘ordinary’ women saving our and our loved ones’ lives; and are undoubtedly our new ‘celebrities’ in a time of crisis.
Grazia is not the only publication replacing the airbrushed celebrity faces we’ve grown used to – UK’s In Style and Glamour have celebrated frontline medical workers on their covers and Vogue Italia left it’s April edition cover as a completely blank sheet. The publisher stated: “To speak of anything else – while people are dying, doctors and nurses are risking their lives and the world is changing forever – is not the DNA of Vogue Italia.” The world is indeed changing – LVMH is now producing hand sanitiser, Burberry is making hospital gowns, The Body Shop is donating product and gift cards to health workers, Dove’s latest ‘Courage Is Beautiful’ campaign portrays medical staff masked by the equipment used to protect their own lives, and children in the UK are creating rainbow drawings to display in their windows in support of the NHS – posters of their favourite musicians temporarily forgotten.
Traditional celebrity and influencer partnerships are not over, but those that brands choose to partner with to project their messaging will be met with more scrutiny, so strategic casting and carefully considered messaging is more important now than ever. There will be less focus on aesthetics and engagement rates as the focus pivots from pushing product to supporting people and conveying purpose. Instead, the key driver in casting will be who the ambassador is as a person, what their values are, what they stand for, and how they connect with their audience. Brands seeking to remain relevant through this crisis and ensure longevity and consumer loyalty would do well to consider long-term partnerships with fewer but better talent – those who are true creators, voices of authority or valued entertainers.
We may be living in a strange and uncertain time, but it will not be permanent. Once the world emerges from this tumultuous period what will persist is the need for substance. Celebrities have always needed to be used in advertising in a believable way, because when they are, it works. Brands can experience a 20-40% increase in sales by using a celebrity endorsement and they have been proven to increase trust in its audience. Authenticity has always been the key buzz word in talent partnerships, but now it will truly be vital. As with any good relationship, choose your partner wisely, invest in them long-term and communicate well.