The rise of the expert (and fall of celebrity)

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Clooney

Let’s be honest. The day that an alien life form lands on Earth and we have to explain about ‘that time we bought a coffee machine because actor George Clooney recommended it’, it’s going to be pretty embarrassing. We’re not going to look the brightest.

So when celebrities began losing sway to bloggers, vloggers and the eventually rebranded ‘influencers’… we were trending in a better direction, right?

I remember the mixed reaction of the marketing industry upon the realisation that influencers were actually a thing that was here to stay. Some cautious excitement around the flexibility of these new channels alongside uncensored confusion and outrage as to how that was going to decimate the traditional PR plans which we’d based our careers on.

Still, in retrospect, it could be said that this was the start of a movement towards seeking out expertise. At least these individuals had an ambition to claim a space or subject to be regarded as knowledgeable in.

So, it’s experts that we’re after - a trend towards the expert becoming the driver in consumer perception and purchasing behaviour. Maybe it’s this new ‘post-truth world’ that we’re hearing so much about, setting us on a course to find genuine authority for specific subject matter.

I like David Beckham as much as the next England football fan, but is he really the best authority on which phone, soft drink, fragrance, pants, whiskey, hair product, razor or weekly shop you should buy? Well, maybe the Brylcreem but otherwise peer reviews, comparison websites and industry experts are probably a bit better informed.

Interestingly, this rejection of celebrity endorsement seems to be present across all age groups, not just jaded thirty-something PRs. According to recent research from The Playbook, 18-24s report positive influence from celebrity endorsement from just 16% compared to more than double that citing expert. The effect of celebrity drops to just 1% for over 55’s:

Respondents in our research referenced credibility as a main issue with brands using celebrity spokespeople. It’s increasingly ineffective to paste a famous face over the top of a marketing campaign when they are not perceived to have a natural association, defined knowledge or lack identification appeal with the target audience. It’s also just quite lazy.

Whilst findings such as these have been echoed in other research and reports, a lack of clarity around the definition of celebrity, influencer and expert seem to create a grey area for marketeers. Where should we place micro influencers on the spectrum, for example? A mainstay of many campaigns designed to drive influence for clients at The Playbook, handpicked specifically for their knowledge on a specific subject and highly engaged audience.

In our core sectors of sport, active health and tech, prominent athletes naturally come with a level of authenticity, as ex-professional sporting experts. The challenge then is generating awareness and influence using those individuals who genuinely believe in brands and their products.

So what next? Microexperts? Individuals with such deep knowledge that there’s almost nothing that they don’t know on their ultra-specific subject?

There are just as many challenges associated with that. If the knowledge is so specialist, we’ll need numerous expert opinions to form a more general point of view. And how will tech help us facilitate the aggregation of a huge number of these sources and help us build them into one cohesive overview?

Robot influencers!? No. But microexperts… maybe.

For now, let’s focus on authenticity. And for the sake of the first celebrity example, hope that George Clooney hasn’t become the authority on Dark Roast Arabica and cold-drip brewing whilst producing Ocean’s Eight.

*frantically opens Google*

Leigh Ireland is creative director at The Playbook.

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