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MKTG Insights: Sponsorship Is Now Under the Influence(r)

MKTG Insights: Sponsorship Is Now Under the Influence(r)

Brands invest in sponsorship to achieve a transfer of affinity and engage with consumers over shared passions. By demonstrating shared interests and values, corporate sponsors hope to become companions in our everyday lives. Often, these objectives materialize through partnerships with public figures. However, the age of new media has changed the way our culture now defines "celebrity" or "influencer" - and this shift is beginning to manifest in marketing and sponsorships. In the early days of Instagram and Twitter - and before them YouTube - or any other public social network that allows users to create, grow, and nurture a legion of followers, creating an account meant a platform to express one's views, perform, or simply connect with both friends and strangers. Today, creating an account on social media is potentially go-to-market planning for the start of a new business. Many social media users have built up loyal followings of millions of people due to the generation of non-branded content (humour, music, how-to videos, pop culture commentary, etc.), only to leverage their newfound celebrity status into paid marketing-driven activity such as product reviews, sampling, or simply product usage.

- Seventeen magazine has placed Instagram celebrities on their cover

- American Eagle has hired Vine celebrity Brittany Furlan in a cause marketing campaign

- Brands like Taco Bell and Wet Seal have tapped 16 year-old Meghan Hughes to promote products over Snapchat to her millions of followers

Our social-driven culture has become one in which we all have the potential to become our own media networks. Brands have recognized this opportunity to partner with online influencers to connect with sought-after millennial audiences, as 60% of brands are now investing in influencer marketing.

Why Partner with an online influencer? Traditionally, in sponsorships, professional athletes and Hollywood stars have been identified as holding the greatest clout with consumers, and have therefore attracted the attention of brands. Endorsements and partnerships with online influencers are not intended to replace the credibility and exposure that marquee athletes or celebrities can bring to a sponsorship portfolio. However, for brands, there is tangible benefit to complementing your roster of endorsers by partnering with upstart social media influencers. While Nike leverages stars like LeBron James, Richard Sherman, or Alexander Ovechkin in mass marketing, promotional deals with Instagram fitness stars like Jen Selter (20 years old, New York City) allows them to collaborate with a different type of property and audience. Sponsors who partner with online influencers can derive the following benefits for their own brand:

Mass exposure : According to Nielsen data, YouTube now reaches more U.S. adults aged 18 to 34 than any other cable network. While social media, particularly on mobile, is often referred to as the "second screen" experience, the reality is that the 24/7 computers in our hands are anything but secondary. The fact that online influencers live on social channels simply boosts their ability to provide mass reach to their brand partners.

Relatability to target audience: Notable entertainment publication Variety commissioned a study determining who the most influential figures were among 13 - 18 year-old teenage consumers . The study concluded that the Top 5 most influential figures were YouTube stars. The study gauged for characteristics thought to most impact the purchase behaviour of teens (approachability, authenticity, etc.). YouTube stars do not hold the same "Hollywood" status as traditional film, television, and music stars and they often speak to personal issues and display their vulnerability to a mass audience,  rendering them more relatable to millennials.

Influence on purchase decision: A 2012 report from Ad Age claims that "84% of millennials said social opinions influence their purchase decisions, and 51% said they trust 'strangers' more than friends". Online influencers are viewed as "everyday people" and are perhaps perceived as more genuine in their online referrals.

Categories to Watch: While the presence of social media celebrities within influencer marketing is widespread and transcendent of any individual brand category, there are notable industries to watch for heightened usage of online influencers in their sponsorship portfolio. Categories that are most prone to this wave of sponsorship are those in which purchase decisions are highly influenced by millenials, particularly in the early-adoption phase of the product life cycle. MKTG explores the impact of online influencers on a number of fundamentally important sponsorship categories:

Fitness / Sports Apparel: Fitness is inherently social. Online fitness communities on social media inspire and motivate millions. Personal trainers and other fitness thought-leaders partner with leading apparel brands like Nike, Adidas, and others to position their brands in an aspirational context.

Cosmetics / Beauty Products: The YouTube and Instagram platforms are home to a long list of online cosmetic consultants. Thousands of influencers produce sought-after content such as make-up tutorials, and make-up art demonstrations. Cosmetic brands like L'Oreal and Maybelline have partnered with a number of these influencers to showcase product functionality and align with thought-leaders.

Consumer Technology: Tech is an industry prone to social media reviews. Early-adopter positive reviews are crucial to success in the category. For more high-involvement purchase decisions like  computers or mobile devices, partnerships with online influencers can act as validation for purchase decisions (See below).

Risks and Considerations of Influencer Marketing:

Sponsors must tread carefully when ramping up their influencer marketing activity. Brands must seek authentic partners and minimize the appearance of overt advertising. While consumers are conditioned to seeing traditional endorsers in a promotional setting, there may not be as high of a consumer expectation to seeing trusted online personalities suddenly push certain brands to their followers. Likewise, online influencers seeking to monetize their social following must be conscious of not diluting their value proposition by becoming a carousel of advertising.

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