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Is celebrity influence still a force to be reckoned with in the social media age?

THAILAND is a very celebrity-centric country. Celebs have been a part of the media and marketing scene dating back to the latter half of the last century. If you were to turn on a television at any given time, you would definitely see celebrities endorsin

Celebrity endorsement has always been how things are done here in Thailand. Any marketer with a budget would have no reason to turn down the use of celebs, as their influential powers can add credibility and profitability beyond imagination. 
However, that was a matter of the past. 
The world is reaching its peak of borderless social connectivity. 
We may have to ask ourselves: Are the influential powers of celebrities a force to still be reckoned with? 
Let’s take a leap through the recent development in consumer behaviour to see whether this still rings true.
According to recent consumer studies from leading sources in Thailand such as Video Research’s T-Cube, IPG Mediabrands’ Wave Studies and even Google, consumers are not like they were a few years ago.
From T-Cube’s data, only 20 per cent of Thai consumers believe in endorsements and recommendations from celebrities. The interesting point is that this percentage has remained the same across three years of tracking. The stagnated trend from this data point is saying celebrities have not totally lost their power in Thailand but rather have seen no significant improvement in their power to influence. This is an indication that Thais are now listening to someone or something else. 
That is exactly where another set of data interjects. 
According to Wave consumer studies from IPG Mediabrands, Thai consumers are now turning to someone else for influence, and that someone else is none other than their fellow consumers. 
From four years’ worth of data, Wave studies have shown a 15-per-cent increase in Thai consumers who have admitted that their decisions are influenced by online opinions from other users. 
To top off this increase in consumer influential power, trend data from search giant Google have also shown a doubling in search volume for “reviews” and “consumer reviews” in Thailand during the last five years. This fact alone is signalling the change in Thai consumer preferences – that they value the words of others more than the words of celebrities.
From this paradigm shift, should marketers still rely on celebrities? The answer is yes, but they will have to play a different role than that of an influencer.
Marketers should be using celebs for what they are well known for. Their strength now is visibility, as each of the popular celebs here comes with his or her own set of fans whom they are able to interact with on regular basis through social and online channels. 
Marketers should then be using consumers for their strength in convincing one another.
When planning a marketing campaign involving celebs, marketers should consider every possible angle to make sure that celebs and consumers are being used correctly and orderly. 
For example, celebs can be used to generate and maximise awareness of products or services whether through above-the-line media or social channels to kick start the campaign. This action can then trigger fans and followers to help spread the word.
After the messages are spread by social media, marketers should start identifying who are the most influential consumers and use them next with things like reviews, product tests or testimonials. These contributions by influential consumers should be informative yet entertaining, all in an easy-to-follow language to help influence other consumers.
There are still many other options one can explore when using celebs and consumer influencers. This is but one illustration of how the campaign could flow. 
The importance of consumers’ words is becoming more and more significant, while celebs are reaching the point of being just nice to have from the mass consumers’ point of view. It is up to you to use them suitably and only then will you be able to maximise your investment in the use of celebs. 
People have spoken, provide them a script.
Maas Virajoti is head of strategy and innovation at IPG Mediabrands Thailand.

Published : January 14, 2015