Tavi for Clinique.
When Banana Republic launched its first carousel advertisement on Instagram this past April, it didn’t tap a Hollywood ingénue or an in-demand model to star. Instead, the brand looked to Song of Style blogger Aimee Song, whose 2.4 million Instagram followers, 536,000 Facebook likes, and 55,400 Twitter followers were just the audience it was trying to reach.
It’s not news that brands are increasingly reliant on internet-famous faces to spread their gospel, but the stakes have been raised as of late. In an unprecedented move, beauty brand Clinique recently invited three influencers to appear in a global campaign that spans print and web, including a compelling video series. Rookie editor-in-chief Tavi Gevinson, entrepreneur/DJ Hannah Bronfman and Shine by Three blogger Margaret Zhang are the stars of #FaceForward, which aims to reach the fresh-faced audience Clinique has served for years. (Gevinson, of course, is now an actress as well, but she was first known for her astute and beautifully written blog, Style Rookie.)
“Clinique is the number one prestige skincare brand among millennials,” explains Melissa Knapp, senior vice president of Clinique Global Creative. “We wanted to build a campaign that celebrated trailblazing women, women whose accomplishments extend far beyond just looking good. Tavi Gevinson, Margaret Zhang and Hannah Bronfman are, obviously, gorgeous, but it was their fearlessness—their relentless pursuit of their goals that made them perfect for the #faceforward campaign.”
Knapp’s hope is that the accomplishments of these women will serve as inspiration for Clinique’s present — and hopefully future — customers. “The #FaceFoward campaign is an exciting opportunity for our millennial consumers to get inspired and to speak about their own future and goals,” she says.
Clinique and Banana Republic are just two of dozens of major brands that have hired digital influencers to star in major campaigns. The Blonde Salad’s Chiara Ferragni was the face of Guess’ 2013 digital holiday campaign, while Peace Love Shea’s Shea Marie starred in Candie’s Spring 2015 ads. “It’s definitely become standard operating procedure to consider digital influencers when discussing the face of an advertising campaign. It’s no longer a list of just models and celebrities,” says Vanessa Flaherty, vice president of management at Digital Brand Architects, a firm that reps bloggers and influencers. “I think the big shift took place the same time traditional celebrities and tastemakers started vying for [digital-only] campaigns. All these worlds are converging.”
Digital influencers pursuing creative endeavors behind the camera are also gaining traction in the ad space. Red-carpet favorite Stuart Weitzman called on the talents of Jamie Beck and Kevin Berg of Ann Street Studio to create cinemagraphs — which are, in the most basic definition, still images with an animated detail — for its most recent Instagram campaign. In the case of Beck and Berg, their skills would earn them work even if Ann Street Studio’s more than 121,000 Instagram followers disappeared tomorrow; audience size is not always all that matters. “I think it has to do with influence and accessibility,” Flaherty says. “A Kardashian will always have 10 times more reach than a fashion blogger, but when you look at engagement and sentiment, bloggers will influence consumers to a much richer degree.”
A blogger is also much cheaper than a Kardashian. While the rate for starring in a campaign varies drastically, top-tier bloggers can easily earn into the six figures, while the rest of the gang can negotiate a rate that hits the mid-five figures, according to industry sources. That’s a good deal when compared to the seven figures any big star would demand.
However, it can be argued, as Flaherty posits, that in many circumstances hiring a blogger, Vine or YouTube star offers more than a discount on a pretty face. Consumers, more than ever before, are seeking authenticity in everything they do, see and buy. These influencers may be beautiful, but to their followers they are also real people. And right now, real is winning.