Why brands need authenticity in their celebrity and influencer collaborations
Since 1954, more Burger King restaurants had burned down than any other fast-food chain.
On the surface, that might seem like a fact the fast-food brand would rather bury than promote. Instead, the BK marketing team took the opposite tack, poking fun at the fact in their 2017 marketing campaign. They made print ads showing some of their locations burning alongside their long-running slogan ‘Flame-grilled since 1954’. Their authentic marketing campaign won the 2017 Cannes Grand Prix.
This is the type of authenticity in advertising and marketing demanded by consumers today; and the same goes for influencer and creator campaigns.
If your partnerships look much the same as everyone else's, you need to take another look at your collaborations with celebrities as well as new-age influencers. Consumers don’t want brands to simply dump money and hire famous faces to promote their products—they’re becoming more marketing-savvy every day and don’t like being sold to.
They want meaningful partnerships that they can believe in. And when brand collaborations with celebs and macro-influencers easily come off as inauthentic and lazy, it’s difficult for consumers to move forward.
The problem, as it stands, lies not in the format but in the messaging. By tapping into the human desire to connect with others who have flaws similar to our own—also known as the Pratfall effect—brands can come across as more fun and personal and better connect with consumers.
Today’s brands need to take advantage of this trend to build longer-term, more authentic partnerships with their celebrity and influencer partners. Otherwise, they stand to lose real connections with audiences and their attention—as some brands consistently show being real beats being perfect.
Why real connection works—and its benefits
Consumers crave authentic content.
When brands use tools like self-deprecation, humor, and playfulness in their marketing, they break the traditional barriers that come up whenever a brand is trying to sell something. They manage to humanize the brand and build trust in the process.
Data further indicates that instead of responding to traditional ads, consumers readily invest in products from brands they perceive as transparent and honest. One survey showed 53% of consumers would likely make future purchases from brands showing candor on social media.
One way to do this is via authentic, not-taking-ourselves-too-seriously campaigns with notable figures. Celebrities (and more so, influencers) have extremely engaged and loyal communities. This means followers are often quick to admonish shallow attempts at selling them things that don't align with the influencer’s established persona.
“This emotional connection,” says Nicholas Robb, founder at Design Hero Limited, “builds rapport and loyalty between the brand and the consumer. Gone are days of the cold, hard sell – in 2022, consumers want authenticity and purpose.”
Consider the Michael Bublé vs Bubly commercial from the Super Bowl. The ad poked fun at Michael’s last name’s similarity with the brand name and was successful in significantly raising brand awareness when compared to pre-Super Bowl levels.
As another example, SodaStream, a manufacturer of an at-home carbonation tool, brought a Game of Thrones actor who portrays ‘The Mountain’ on the show for a spoof on one of the scenes from the series.
The brand was earlier marketing to families, but after analyzing data, it was revealed that Millennials were resonating with their brand as well. As such, they brought in a popular actor and created content that would authentically engage this newly-discovered target segment.
It’s also worth noting that choosing a celebrity or influencer partner simply based on their popularity and follower count can sometimes backfire. The message being conveyed can get lost in the hype surrounding the celeb, limiting results for the brand.
For instance, during the Super Bowl 2022, brands like Amazon, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless generated far less engagement than the celebs they partnered with. Celebs like Dolly Parton, Miley Cyrus, Jim Carrey, and Scarlett Johansson outshone the brands they were promoting by…a lot.
What can we glean from this? Establishing real connections with consumers builds trust, loyalty, comfort, and genuine fans for the long term.
How brands leverage authentic, playful celebrity collaborations
Some brands have already cracked the code of producing authentic, humorous, and sometimes, self-deprecating ads. Be it poking fun at the brand name itself or embracing a social media no-no, you should prioritize being real over being perfect. Here are a few campaigns that got this approach right.
1. Uber Eats’ Don’t Eats
Uber Eats teamed up with celebs like Trevor Noah, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Cue Coolidge to announce its expansion into non-food verticals like alcohol and convenience goods. The ad poked fun at the now logically-flawed brand name by showing these celebs trying to eat anything delivered by the service: aluminum foil, a light bulb, a candle, and more.
Using humor and carefully-selected celebrities, Uber Eats successfully conveyed the launch of its new offering and at the same time, solidified its reputation as a cool, fun brand. The Don’t Eats commercial shown at Super Bowl 2022 was the top-rated ad in the 2022 Kellogg School Super Bowl Advertising Review.
2. Jones Road Beauty TikTok
Makeup artist Bobbi Brown responded to a negative review of her brand Jones Road’s WTF Tinted Moisture Balm by the beauty influencer Meredith Duxbury in a rather novel way. In response to Meredith’s thumbs-down review of the product on TikTok, Brown uploaded her own TikTok video showing herself scooping large quantities of the makeup and applying it to her face, similar to the unusual approach Meredith used.
Without naming Meredith, Brown managed to send a response to the wrong application of her product and garnered nearly half a billion likes by the current count.
3. Taco Bell and Doja Cat
The popular QSR chain responded in an unexpected way to the rapper’s outrage on Twitter on the brand dropping the Mexican pizza from its menu. Taco Bell’s Twitter account cleverly mentioned the food item in every conversation with the artist.
“We presented Doja Cat as an anti-hero,” Sara Singh, associate strategy director at Deutsch LA, told Adweek. “She’s the voice of the people. And in this partnership, her goal is to get Mexican Pizza back.” Taco Bell finally brought back the Mexican pizza, the announcement made by Doja Cat during a live performance in Coachella.
Taco Bell embraced the awkward online exchange with a popular artist instead of shying away from it—and in doing so, successfully portrayed the brand as sporting and unfiltered.
4. Moxy Hotels’ DND videos
When Moxy Hotels debuted on YouTube with their own channel, they partnered with YouTuber Taryn Southern for a series of videos showing her interviewing other influencers. The videos were shot inside shipping containers dressed up as Moxy hotel rooms.
The consumer reception for the series was so good that Moxy decided to shoot a second ‘season’ the following year.
Moxy Hotels managed to create entertaining content that exceeded everyone’s expectations. They leveraged popular figures like Oli White and Lisa Schwartz by simply engaging in fun conversations and projected the image onto their brand. This proved that consumers are willing to consume and demand sponsored content if it’s done in a unique format.
5. Magnum’s ‘True To Pleasure’
The Belgian ice cream brand teamed up with multi-platinum artist Halsey and a group of other individuals across the globe for their ‘True To Pleasure’ campaign. Magnum encouraged consumers to be true to themselves and partnered with ‘creative disruptors’ across fashion, art, and culture to share their stories of breaking barriers and express themselves without inhibitions.
Artists like Halsey, DJ Kiddy Smile, and models Catriona and Anh, all collaborated for a short film directed by Martin Werner, where they shared stories of pursuing their dreams and ‘living their truth’.
Magnum’s campaign rang authentic as the influencers and celebs they chose were established trailblazers in their respective fields. By showcasing their trials and successes, the brand conveyed a message of standing beside consumers who were facing hardships of their own.
3 tips for brands when creating campaigns that ooze authenticity
There are a few simple guidelines to live by when crafting your own influencer campaigns and celeb collabs. Whenever in doubt, run your idea through the filter of these tips and decide whether or not it helps achieve the goal of authenticity.
1. Choose influencers and celebs that share your brand ethos
Always partner with someone whose followers have a strong overlap with your target segment. Otherwise, the collaboration may hurt both your brand image and the trust that your ambassador’s followers have in them.
The tone of an influencer’s content should be something you’re comfortable associating with your brand. Do you prefer funny or educational content? Does your brand pride itself on being irreverent or responsible? Producing authentic and funny content with the wrong ambassador might not work, even if your brand perception is one of a humorous brand.
If finding the perfect influencer is getting too difficult, take help from the creator marketing platform hashtagpaid, which can help you discover creators that are a perfect fit for your brand.
2. Give them creative control
Don’t limit the natural creativity of your influencers, something which they’re good at and the very reason you partnered with them. The community you’re trying to connect with is there because of the influencer’s content, not for your brand.
Of course, you need to give a creative brief to the influencer—an overall essence of the entire campaign. But it should be flexible in terms of the format that they prefer. After all, producing something that they aren’t familiar with won’t generate the maximum return for your investment.
3. Don’t shy away from unusual opportunities
You will often have the chance to venture into uncharted territory in terms of content and perhaps, the brand ambassador you’re choosing. Don’t make a rule to avoid such opportunities straight away. Take stock of the potential benefits and losses to your brand image and then take a calculated risk.
After all, sometimes calculated risks can pay off.
Unlock the next age of ads with human connections
Stay loyal to the old ways, and you might find yourself left behind in the constant race to engage and entertain consumers in innovative ways.
The only way forward is by connecting with consumers on a human level. You need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable by venturing into raw, untouched human interactions with both your ambassadors and customers.
Your celebrity and influencer partnerships should not only be crafted around meaningful relationships but also convey shared sensibilities. Make it a rule to not take your campaigns too seriously and to keep exploring opportunities that poke fun at yourself and your brand.