TweetstormDavid Perell

Influencers are Billboards

TweetstormDavid Perell
Influencers are Billboards

Influencers are the new billboards. 

Traditionally, CPG brands appealed to the average consumer. That’s why they created ad-campaigns around widely-known celebrities. Other brands created their own celebrities. The Old Spice Man is my favorite example.


Mass media rewarded celebrities with mass-awareness. The big got bigger and only the largest brands could endure expensive funnel inefficiencies. Heritage brands capitalized on this. 

Too many legacy brands are stuck in their old ways. The strategy of signing famous people, and making them the face of the brand without giving them creative input doesn’t work anymore. It’s fake — young people see right through it. 

But now, big CPG brands are struggling. In the past three years, over $17 billion in sales has evaporated from the 10 largest U.S. packaged-food companies, according to Bloomberg. Sales are shifting towards smaller, transparent, health-conscious brands. 

Big CPG brands are perplexed. They aren’t using influencers the right way. They see influencer marketing as a box to check off, not a strategy to build trust and restore growth. They aren’t using influencers the right way. They think of influencers as “just content creators on the internet.”

They see influencer marketing as a box to check off to stay relevant and “be cool with millennials,” not a strategy to build trust and restore growth. More and more, the value of influencers doesn’t come from content creation. It comes from audience data. This data can be used to: 

  1. Increase brand loyalty. 
  2. Decrease customer acquisition costs
  3. Track the performance of influencer marketing.

Brand marketers are used to the idea of a single spokesperson — one celebrity who speaks for the entire brand. You need to speak to different people in different ways. Companies should use different influencers for different demographics. 

For the first time, brands can super-serve every customer. The world has changed and it’s very personalized now. There’s a media outlet or niche for every subculture. Brands need to hyper-segment their audiences and speak to each of them with different messaging and tone. That’s where influencers double as “billboards.”

The best influencers have extremely loyal audiences — it’s like having a couple million best friends. Influencers humanize the brands they represent and create two-way conversation between brands and their customers. On social media, people don’t follow brands. They follow people. Influencers humanize the brands they represent. 

Modern celebrities are like soul mates. Pay attention to how people talk about their favorite influencers. A friend recently referred to Gary Vaynerchuk as his homie. Um…. he’s never met him. We feel like we know them — we know their dogs, their roommates, and their insecurities. 

Influencers are extensions of our social lives and products are extensions of ourselves. Through brands, we transcend the mundane. More and more, we aren’t just buying a product. We’re buying a new mode of being — a new identity. 

Society is changing too. A 1967 survey ranked community and benevolence ranked as the most important values. Now, people aspire to fame and achievement. 

The best brands have armies of influencers. 

Puma and Samsung are leading the way. The best influencers feel more like friends and less like celebrities. I’m a big fan of Puma’s relationship with Rickie Fowler. Rickie is known for his swag on the golf course. Every Sunday, he wears all orange.  And now, his fans mimic him. It’s fun and authentic — a match made in heaven. 


Samsung’s ads work because they're fun to watch. First, Samsung built a real and authentic relationship with Casey Neistat. Then, Casey recruited his friends — a squad of A+ YouTubers. Crucially, their ads stand for something — Samsung supports creators. Content creation. Done right. 

Brands including Puma and Samsung still aren’t going far enough. They’re missing out on lucrative opportunities. They’re focusing too much on big names and content, and not enough on data. Think trust — not reach. Build a network of influencers and incorporate customer feedback. Work with influencers to curate stores with your brand’s products.

Glossier has mastered this. Today, women are discovering beauty products through their friends. Roughly 80% of their growth comes from peer-to-peer recommendations. Rumor has it that the company showroom generates more sales revenue per square foot than the average Apple store. 

Today, Anybody can create content. Reach is a commodity. The real power of influencers is in their audience data, which they can use to re-target advertisements. And soon, influencers will launch their own social platforms. This is just the beginning….

Branding and performance marketing have converged. A/B test every ad; track brand advertising; evaluate customers with engagement data; use real-time data to iterate and improve creative. Done right, and you’ll compress the marketing funnel.

We live online now. Influencer marketing works. 
But most brands are doing it wrong. 

Think trust — not reach.
Think targeting — not branding.
Think intimate — not broadcasting.
Think audience data — not content creation.