The Complete Guide to Influencer Marketing: Celebrity Endorsements Introduction

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A perfect brand pairing with a famous actor or musician can attract the attention of millions of consumers instantly. The growth of influencer marketing and the creator economy is unlocking new opportunities across every type of partnership.
If you’re a growing brand with an appeal to a large audience, celebrity endorsements may be a great addition to your influencer marketing strategy.

One example of celebrity endorsements: Beyonce pushing a shopping cart full of Pepsi boxes
Image via The New York Times

What is a celebrity influencer?

A celebrity influencer can be any widely recognized person. Celebrities typically have at least 1 million followers on a given social media channel. They are sometimes also classified as mega or macro influencers.

In the United States, some of the leading celebrities include:

  • Professional athletes
  • Famous musicians
  • Movie or TV stars
  • Best-selling authors
  • Business leaders

The world of celebrity-ism has broadened in the last few years, largely thanks to the rise of social media. Many digital creators have leveraged their unique talents to gain millions of engaged followers on leading social channels like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.

The history of celebrity endorsements

In western history, celebrity endorsements predate the 20th Century when the “influencers” were most often members of royalty. 

Higher-end European merchants looked to kings, queens, princes, and princesses for their mark of approval, and once achieved, that retailer had the attention (and wallets) of buyers. Royal endorsements held the highest value. Those with money to spend on the best products took those endorsements seriously, and brands profited from the arrangement.

Royalty is absent in most of today’s leading consumer economies, but endorsements from the rich and famous are alive and well. The amount and success of celebrity endorsements have grown in the last 500 years and have integrated into the broader influencer marketing industry.

What do celebrity endorsements look like today?

Nowadays, consumers are used to seeing brand-celebrity partnerships. Until recently, most celebrity endorsements took place in television commercials and traditional media (newspapers, magazines, billboards, etc.).

Social media and online streaming have dominated media consumption in the last 20 years. As a result, most celebrity endorsements now appear on places like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

In the last five years, brand-celebrity partnerships have become more vibrant due to more celebrities rising within the creator economy.

Do celebrity endorsements work?

Yes. And that’s why so many brands collaborate with celebrities and high-profile influencers today.

“Signing the kinds of endorsers that featured in this study on average generates a 4% increase in sales – which corresponds with around $10 million in additional sales annually – and nearly a 0.25% increase in stock returns.”

– Harvard Business School, The Economic Value of Celebrity Endorsements

For a brand that generates $1 million in monthly sales, 4% means an extra $480,000 a year, not to mention the increased stock value.  

Fans also view their favorite celebrities as someone who is both familiar and trustworthy. This is especially true if the individual endorses a brand relevant to their craft, such as a model partnering with a cosmetics brand or an athlete promoting performance apparel.

But like any marketing approach, everything comes down to your audience and goals. Also, some brands are better than others at building robust relationships with their brand partners, further enhancing a campaign’s authenticity in the eyes of consumers.

Bar graph of respondents answering if they would be more or less likely to visit a fast-food restaurant if it were promoted by their favorite musician, actor, or influencer
Image via Morning Consult

Respondents were asked if they would be more or less likely to visit a fast-food restaurant if it were promoted by their favorite…

Musician:

  • All adults
    • 13% much more likely
    • 24 % somewhat more likely
    • 43% don’t know/no opinion
    • 10% somewhat less likely
    • 10% much less likely
  • Gen Z
    • 16% much more likely
    • 29 % somewhat more likely
    • 40% don’t know/no opinion
    • 7% somewhat less likely
    • 7% much less likely
  • Millennials
    • 18% much more likely
    • 30 % somewhat more likely
    • 33% don’t know/no opinion
    • 14% somewhat less likely
    • 5% much less likely
  • Gen X
    • 16% much more likely
    • 26% somewhat more likely
    • 41% don’t know/no opinion
    • 8% somewhat less likely
    • 9% much less likely
  • Baby boomers
    • 8% much more likely
    • 15% somewhat more likely
    • 56% don’t know/no opinion
    • 6% somewhat less likely
    • 15% much less likely

Actor:

  • All adults
    • 13% much more likely
    • 23% somewhat more likely
    • 44% don’t know/no opinion
    • 10% somewhat less likely
    • 10% much less likely
  • Gen Z
    • 12% much more likely
    • 28% somewhat more likely
    • 45% don’t know/no opinion
    • 8% somewhat less likely
    • 6% much less likely
  • Millennials
    • 18% much more likely
    • 30% somewhat more likely
    • 35% don’t know/no opinion
    • 11% somewhat less likely
    • 6% much less likely
  • Gen X
    • 16% much more likely
    • 24% somewhat more likely
    • 42% don’t know/no opinion
    • 9% somewhat less likely
    • 8% much less likely
  • Baby boomers
    • 8% much more likely
    • 14% somewhat more likely
    • 54% don’t know/no opinion
    • 8% somewhat less likely
    • 16% much less likely

Influencer:

  • All adults
    • 12% much more likely
    • 19% somewhat more likely
    • 46% don’t know/no opinion
    • 9% somewhat less likely
    • 13% much less likely
  • Gen Z
    • 12% much more likely
    • 27% somewhat more likely
    • 45% don’t know/no opinion
    • 9% somewhat less likely
    • 7% much less likely
  • Millennials
    • 18% much more likely
    • 25% somewhat more likely
    • 37% don’t know/no opinion
    • 11% somewhat less likely
    • 9% much less likely
  • Gen X
    • 12% much more likely
    • 23% somewhat more likely
    • 44% don’t know/no opinion
    • 11% somewhat less likely
    • 10% much less likely
  • Baby boomers
    • 9% much more likely
    • 9% somewhat more likely
    • 58% don’t know/no opinion
    • 6% somewhat less likely
    • 19% much less likely

Celebrities versus creators: Which one is right for your brand?

What does it mean to be famous? To some extent, fame is a spectrum. Micro influencers are famous among niche audiences of 100,000 followers or less. But we might not call them celebrities in the same way we would Tom Brady or Shakira.

And while creators may become celebrities and some celebrities become creators, the two aren’t quite the same.

In influencer marketing, celebrities usually have 1 million or more followers. Their strength is being known and adored by the masses, and their voice generates more attention than most people in the world.

Creators typically nurture far smaller online communities than most celebrities. But those communities tend to be more engaged. Creators are often better at getting their audience to take action on a cause or limited-time offer.

Creators and celebrities each have their strengths. Choosing the right individual for your brand depends on certain factors, including:

  • Your audience
  • Where your audience likes to engage
  • Your budget
  • Your goals

Who is your audience?

Before you partner with celebrities, you’ll need to determine if your audience will be more receptive to a widely recognized figure or a more niche creator. 

But don’t stop there. 

You’ll also want to take a deep dive into your potential partner’s audience to determine if your message is getting in front of the right consumers. If a celebrity’s followers don’t seem to align with your ideal customer profile, you’ll know it’s time to look elsewhere.  

Where do your prospects like to engage?

If you learn that a large percentage of your audience is into a recent Netflix series, you might consider a partnership with a famous actor on the show. The same is true if you’re an outdoor brand and most of your followers also follow a handful of popular outdoor influencers on Instagram.

The more information you can get about where your buyers spend their time online, the easier it will be to decide whether celebrities or creators are the better fit.

What is your budget?

Celebrities are not cheap, but it can be worth it if you leverage their content effectively. And while creators are more affordable, they may not have the notoriety to make a big enough splash for your brand.

It’s important to know what you can reasonably spend and the kind of returns you hope to get from that investment. Smaller brands often do well to invest in nano and micro influencers at first before testing the waters with celebrities. Bigger brands with large marketing budgets can often accomplish far more in a single celebrity endorsement than they could across 100 lesser-known creators.

What do you want your celebrity or creator to accomplish for your brand?

The bigger the name, the more top-of-funnel marketing goals (brand awareness) that individual will help you reach. For bottom-of-funnel goals (conversions), creators with smaller, more engaged audiences usually perform much better.

The ideal approach leverages creators and influencers across all stages of your funnel. As you examine each campaign, your objective will determine which person fits your brand better.

The Influencer Marketing Funnel part 1
The Influencer Marketing Funnel part 2
The Influencer Marketing Funnel part 3
The Influencer Marketing Funnel part 4

Influencer Marketing Funnel

How to incorporate creators and their content in your marketing strategy.

Top of the funnel (TOFU)

TOFU Goal:  Introduce your brand and broaden your reach of your target audience.

Brand Awareness

Key Creator Metrics:

  • # of active creators
  • # of creator posts
  • Creator reach
  • Follower growth on brand pages
  • Ongoing user-generated content (UGC)

Creator Content Types:

  • Unboxing videos
  • Blogs
  • Branded hashtags
Middle of the funnel (MOFU)

MOFU Goal:  Stay “front-of-mind” with your audience and educate them on your product or service.

Audience Nurturing

Key Creator Metrics:

  • Engagement rate
  • Likes-to-comments ratio
  • Quality of engagements
  • Follower growth on brand pages

Creator Content Types:

  • Contests and giveaways
  • Informational videos and live streams
  • FAQs
  • How-tos
  • Behind-the-scenes content
Bottom of the funnel (BOFU)

BOFU goal:  Convert prospects into customers.

Conversion

Key Creator Metrics:

  • Link clicks (CTR)
  • Subscriptions
  • Leads
  • Discount code redemptions
  • Sales
  • Return on ad spend for repurposed influencer-generated content

Creator Content Types:

  • Product reviews
  • Testimonials
  • Product offers and promotions

How do brands benefit from using celebrities in an influencer marketing campaign?

The excitement and fame of a celebrity can overflow onto the brands they promote. This is known as the halo effect. 

“When an influencer uses a brand’s product or service, it comes with a halo of trust. The one-on-one social media interaction with someone they admire or aspire to makes consumers feel seen and heard, deepening their relationship with the influencer.”

Crisp Thinking, 2020

Celebrities who agree to a brand partnership recognize they’re leveraging their reputation to back a particular product. Ultimately, the quality of the relationship nurtured between the brand and the celebrity becomes the ultimate component that elevates a brand in the market.

The pros of working with celebrities

A positive brand mention from a celebrity means instant recognition. This brand awareness can spike your web traffic, social media follows, sales, and more. 

This level of recognition can also help your brand accomplish the following:

  • Pull a struggling brand to the top of its industry
  • Reach new markets, both national and international
  • Inspire reform for a particular cause
  • Put distance between a brand and its competitors
  • Drive sales for new product lines

The cons of working with celebrities

Some marketers report that celebrity endorsements may only benefit the individual’s personal brand over the business’s brand. But you can easily remedy this issue through strong, collaborative relationships where the celebrity genuinely loves your brand and products.

“Advertising campaigns must be developed skillfully, or there’s a risk that the viewer remembers the celebrity, not the product. Worse still, there’s a risk of a celebrity’s negative attributes or misalignment tearing down the brand. An inauthentic endorsement is worse than no endorsement at all.”

USA Today

Second, celebrity endorsements don’t come cheap. Most partnerships begin at $5,000 and can go higher than $500,000. Before prospecting from the celebrity pool, ensure you have a solid budget to set yourself up for success.

Most importantly, remember that celebrities are people capable of thriving relationships that inspire audiences to become true brand fans.

What is it like to work with a celebrity manager?

Celebrities get brand partnership offers all the time. That’s why most hire talent managers or agencies to help them manage partnership relationships. 

Celebrity manager outreach

Celebrity managers ensure that their client gets the best deal possible. Your job as a marketer is to nurture a strong relationship with that manager from the start.

Sometimes the celebrity has an official website with their agent or manager’s contact information visible to the public. Other times, you will need to go through an industry organization, such as the Actor’s Union, National Football League, or university sports department, to find the right person to talk to.

Begin with a professional, concise email about who you are, what the brand is, and the kind of endorsement deal you’re looking for. Do your best to keep initial messages short and sweet until you’re negotiating a deal. Send a follow-up if you don’t receive a response after a couple of business days.

With celebrity endorsements, your relationship with that person’s agent will set the tone for your relationship with that celebrity. 

The manager’s cut

Being a talent agent/manager is hard work since they must vet all endorsement requests and maintain their client’s schedule to accommodate the celebrity’s day job and brand deals.

Agents typically receive a 10-20% cut of what their client receives from an endorsement deal. This is standard business practice and will factor into your celebrity influencer costs.

Access to more celebrities

The better your relationship with celebrity agents, the greater access you’ll have to other celebrities for future deals. For this reason, building long-term partnerships with the right agents is critical for your brand if celebrity endorsements are a key part of your marketing strategy.

How to get celebrity endorsements

1. Consider your audience.

Don’t just go after the biggest celebrity in your industry. The prospect must have exceptional name recognition, but they should also be relatable to your target audience. 

That said, it won’t be feasible to go through every follower to check for brand alignment. Instead, take a smaller sample size of followers commenting or providing meaningful engagement with the creator. You can also look at previous collaborations the celebrity has done to see if those brands align with your own.

2. Identify your budget.

Know what you can reasonably afford, set a strict budget, and don’t exceed it. Start small when negotiating and work your way up to your highest figure. Don’t worry too much if you can’t work out a deal that fits your budget with a particular creator. You can always sacrifice a few thousand followers for a partnership that works better financially. 

3. Plan to work through an agent or talent manager.

There’s no point trying to contact a celebrity directly. Even if you are lucky enough to get that person’s personal email or phone, sending a cold outreach message won’t get you very far unless you already have a relationship with them.

Great celebrity endorsement deals go through celebrity agents or managers. In the early recruiting stages, working with an agent is as close to working directly with the celebrity as you’ll get, and that’s OK.

It’s also essential to distinguish between agents/talent managers and influencer marketplaces. Influencer marketplaces do not work for the celebrity—they merely facilitate transactions between brands and influencers. By contrast, agents represent their clients exclusively since the celebrity doesn’t have the time to answer every brand’s offer. 

4. Find celebrities that are a good fit for your brand.

Your brand mission, vision, and values should come first when searching for a celebrity partnership. Working with like-minded people ensures that your audience knows exactly who you are and what you stand for.

The best-case scenario is to find a celebrity who already uses your product. If that’s not possible, send the creator some free merchandise ahead of time and let them determine if it’s something they would use in real life. 

5. Make your ‘ask’ very clear.

To build a good relationship, you should know what you want the person to do, how long the partnership will last, the products you want to showcase, and what the compensation package is.

Keep in mind: Celebrities are professionals and expect the same status from the brands they partner with. Providing detailed briefs and campaign goals is a great way to show you’re legit.

6. Maintain clear communication with your point of contact.

Whether your main point of contact is with the agent or the celebrity, you need to keep in touch and maintain open communication. At the end of the day, your celebrity endorsement campaign is only as strong as your relationship with that individual.

Successful advertisements with celebrity endorsements

One of the most iconic brand-celebrity partnerships in recent years is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Under Armour. In each commercial and post, Johnson highlights the apparel brand as the official clothing of everyday people pushing their physical limits. 

The Johnson-Under Armour partnership doesn’t just feature a wrestler-turned-actor with rippling muscles working out in UA accessories; it goes the extra mile to show inclusivity for those with major disabilities choosing to experience life to the fullest. They’ve worked together to make UA a brand for those determined to always “find a way.”

In another example, Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams joined forces with Audi to promote its line of electric vehicles. The first commercial launched during the 2020 Super Bowl with Maisie singing Frozen’s “Let It Go” while driving her EV in city traffic.

Fans of GOT resonated with the campaign that promoted humor, renewable energy, and mindfulness in situations that most people find stressful.

Updated: October 2022

Frequently Asked Questions

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s partnership with Under Armour and Maisie Williams’ partnership with Audi are two recent examples of celebrity endorsements done right. In both cases, the brands involved leverage the celebrity influencers’ massive popularity to create impactful ads that resonate with their target audience. 

A celebrity endorsement is when a widely recognized figure promotes a brand or product. The stamp of approval from a celebrity usually causes a spike in brand awareness and creates positive sentiment for their partner companies. 

Celebrity endorsements can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to millions. The exact amount depends on the celebrity’s popularity and the nature of the endorsement (television ad, social media post, etc.).

The three main benefits of using celebrity endorsements include:

  • Increased brand awareness
  • Social proof
  • Positive brand sentiment

Celebrity endorsements work the same way as an endorsement from any other public figure. The most common compensation structure is a flat fee for endorsing a product. But a celebrity could also negotiate a commission from sales or equity in their partner company. 

The best way to get a celebrity endorsement is to find one who already knows your brand and uses your products. Otherwise, it’s best to reach out to their manager, ask if you can send some free samples, and negotiate a partnership from there. 

Celebrities generally have representation, meaning you’ll need to reach out to their manager rather than reaching out to the celebrity directly. Be sure to keep your initial outreach short and sweet, but be clear with your ask and include a direct call to action for how they can follow up with you.

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Written by Quinn Schwartz

Quinn studied journalism at the University of Kentucky and now lives in Washington, DC. He’s particularly interested in storytelling in digital marketing and cost-effective creator strategies for smaller brands. When he’s not writing, you can find him at a concert, dog park, or debating whether or not to go on a run.