Is celebrity culture over? Every now and then, an influential cultural commentator seems to say it is. For instance, in 2017 Nick Bilton with Vanity Fair wrote: “Why Hollywood As We Know It Is Already Over.” In 2016, Amanda Dobbins with The Ringer wrote about “The End of Celebrity As We Know It,” while The Economist ran a piece on “Fading stars: Hollywood studios can no longer bank on the pulling-power of famous actors.” In 2009 Daniel Henninger wrote for the Wall Street Journalabout how “The Age of Celebrity died with Michael Jackson’s Heart,” and in 1996 Bernard Weinraub wrote a piece in the New York Times titled: “Whatever Happened to Box-Office Star Power?”
As you can see, people have been declaring the end of the celebrity for a long time. However, a history of “the celebrity’s death” announcements reveals that the celebrity doesn’t go away, instead, it continuously changes as culture and technology change with it. The idea of the celebrity is still powerful – it just comes in a different shape and size than it did before.
Influencers: The New Celebrities
The star power of an A-list celebrity is a lower wattage than it used to be. So who’s replacing them? Instagram influencers used to be seen as a marketing joke, then as an acceptable side-hustle for low-profile brands who needed to promote products but couldn’t afford an ad campaign from Brad Pitt or Jennifer Lawrence.
But now, Instagram is the place for big and small brands alike to be seen. Brands have been receiving more exposure due to influencers, whose collective celebrity power is beginning to eclipse the marketing power formerly attributed to movie stars.
Kylie Jenner, currently the highest-paid Instagram influencer with a fee of £788,000 per post, certainly has an established presence in TV and fashion, but her media empire unquestionably relies on her Instagram presence. As influencer fees go up, movie star salaries are going down. Kylie would only have to make 40 Instagram posts to match Daniel Craig’s £31 million compensation for his performance in two Bond films, a salary that makes him one of the highest-paid stars in Hollywood.
And it’s not just small brands with tiny marketing budgets who are contributing to these huge influencer fees. Joe Gagliese, a co-founder of mega-Influencer firm Viral Nation, recently shared in a Vox interview that their clients worked with companies like Crayola, Wrigley, and Anheuser-Busch – some of the most recognisable brands in the world.
Luck, Skill, and Perseverance
It’s clear that Instagram influencers are collectively replacing celebrity promotion. Consumers used to learn what their favourite celebrities were up to through shared experiences; they all saw the same blockbusters and read the same celebrity tabloids.
However, In the internet age, consumers can pick and choose their exposure to celebrities. And there are plenty of ways for fans to experience online contact with figures who lack the sheer mainstream stature of George Clooney or Halle Berry. Gossip columnist Elaine Lui observed that plenty of prominent influencers are “both big and specific at the same time,” dominating their chosen cultural niche without needing to gain much traction outside of that niche.
There are plenty of niches to choose from, which means an Instagram influencer is an increasingly common aspirational career path. But just like becoming a celebrity, becoming a successful influencer takes a magical combination of hard work and plenty of luck. “It’s like winning the lottery,” Gagliese said to Vox. Aspiring influencers can’t always win the lottery, but they can exert control over the quality, frequency, and styling of their posts, priming their accounts for influencer success when a lucky break does strike. And a plethora of social marketing companies have sprung up to provide advice and services for would-be professional influencers – for instance, take a look at advice from Magic Social on “4 Ways to Get More Instagram Views on Your Videos.”
Successful Instagram influencers maintain an impressive balancing act, communicating personal authenticity while making sure their partner brands get communicated clearly. Gagliese points out that one of the most common influencer mistakes he sees is failing to truly showcase a partner brand, simply including a product in a picture rather than actively encouraging their followers to engage with it. But failing to seem “authentic” can also harm influencers. In her profile of Instagram influencers who have emerged from the Bachelor franchise, Ellie Krupnick points out the meticulous attention to relatability that each influencer shows in their posts, the same relatability that made them ideal reality show contestants.
A Doorway for Diversity
“Successful Instagram Influencer” is still an exclusive club, but it allows more room for different voices and interests than the celebrity-market we are all familiar with. While Kylie Jenner’s fee is stunning, Gagliese points out that nano influencers can make between £30,000 and £60,000 per year, while micro-influencers can make up to £100,000.
The worlds of social media and celebrity are no longer separate – and that opens up plenty of opportunities for exposure to new talent. Overwhelmingly white and male movie executives no longer have exclusive control over who can be a celebrity (though, as Gagliese acknowledged in his Vox interview, Instagram still favours the privileged and traditionally beautiful).
Unexpected artists – not just new branding opportunities – are emerging through the merger of the traditional celebrity and social media influencer. Plenty of Netflix subscribers fell in love with Jimmy Tatro’s critically acclaimed comedic star performance on American Vandal, and many of those subscribers would never have encountered Tatro unless he had first started building his media profile through his popular Youtube channel, ‘Life According to Jimmy’. It’s also no surprise Tatro’s star continued to rise through the paradigm-breaking Netflix rather than the old guard Hollywood/TV studio system.
Not every Instagram influencer aspires to star in their own Netflix show, but plenty can now make money in a sphere that they already deeply care about.