Are social media influencers replacing celebrity ambassadors?

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Are social media influencers replacing celebrity ambassadors?

Guest Column: Piali Dasgupta, Senior Vice President – Marketing, Columbia Pacific Communities, writes on the creator economy and its dimensions


Piali Dasgupta

Aug 31, 2023 11:42 AM

5 min read

The creator economy is growing at a CAGR of 25%, which is higher than a lot of high-potential sectors such as ed tech and health tech. Globally, the creator economy is estimated to be $ 1.75 billion; in India, it is estimated at $ 75-150 million a year. There are about 2.5 to 3 million creators in India and by the end of 2028, this community is expected to drive ad spends of $2.8 billion to $3.5 billion, suggest reports.

Most marketers today are diverting about 60 and 70% of their budgets to digital channels. And a large chunk of this amount is going towards influencer marketing.

Why influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing has 1.5x higher engagement rate than brand-pushed content. It’s also far more cost-effective than, let’s say, traditional advertising due to its low production costs. Creators are one of the most effective ways of reaching out to the millennial and Gen-Z audience, thanks to their great affinity towards creators. Also, creator content is immune to ad-blocking, a feature which is popular amongst this cohort.

Creator content vs celebrity endorsements

The 90s and the naughts were the golden age of celebrity ambassadors. Whether it was Shah Rukh Khan’s cola ads, Kapil Dev’s health drink ad or Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as the face of a much-admired watch brand – it was really about brands leveraging the star power, charisma and fan following of these mega ambassadors. Back then, celebrities were a lot less accessible. There was no social media; the paparazzi culture had not entered India. And so, to see your favourite star outside of the silver screen was a thing of novelty and excitement.

That’s not the case anymore. Today’s celebrities are a lot more accessible. They are constantly sharing updates on their lives on social media, are being papped outside the airport and their favourite restaurants, making them a part of our daily lives.

And while one is still hearing of multi-billion-dollar celebrity endorsements that Deepika Padukone, Virat Kohli or Lionel Messi routinely sign, the joy of seeing them in ads, is lost. These endorsements make for great media buzz because of the eye-popping numbers and may help position a brand accurately in a hugely competitive market. It may even drive desire and consideration for a brand.  But in the age of the ZMOT (Zero Moment of Truth), whether they actually drive purchase decision or not is moot.  

Enter creators and creator economy. Individuals with unique talent or specialised knowledge on a subject or great style, who have become brands in their own right, with millions of social media followers.

A unique voice

The big advantage they have over celebrities is that the content they generate is their own – it’s not scripted by a copywriter in an ad agency. And it feels a lot like them, and therefore seem a lot more real. It’s far less salesy, predictable, boring and hence, far more likeable and entertaining from a consumer standpoint.

Consider the average beauty product ad featuring a Bollywood actress. Don’t they all look the same? Cascading hair in case of a shampoo ad, close up shots or flawless skin in case of creams and serums, and so on.

However, if five different creators are given the same product to promote, they would all have their unique, authentic way to feature them in their reels. Someone like a Kusha Kapila with her trademark brand of humour would do it in her own unbeatable style, making it look much less like an ad, and a lot more like a sketch or a story. And a beauty influencer like Jovita George will perhaps review the product, highlighting its features. 


Today, there are creators in every domain possible – right from finance to tech, and food to health, wellness, fitness, fashion and beauty. They have amassed followers by the dint of the quality of informative and educative content they generate on their subject, which ultimately adds value to the lives of their followers. When a brand collaborates with a creator who is a subject matter expert, what it gains is a stamp of authority. When a mobile phone brand collaborates with a tech influencer, it not only reaches out to a highly targeted audience base of tech lovers who are more likely to buy its products, but also gets the approval of a “tech expert.”

With celebrities, who are more likely to endorse anything that comes their way – right from toothpaste to pan masala and insurance, this credibility and authority is missing. They are not seen as subject matter experts, and therefore, it becomes evident that the only reason for them to be associated with a brand is the moolah it offers. And that can impact audience perception in some cases. Certain consumer research also reveal that consumers are apprehensive of buying products that have celebrities as their ambassadors, because they feel that the products would be marked up to cover the endorsement costs.

Having said that, I don’t think we have reached a stage yet where influencers can completely replace celebrity endorsements. A celebrity ambassador, in most cases, still results in great visibility, and high affinity towards the brand and gives most brands a competitive edge over its competitors. But a lot depends on how the celebrity is used; and whether the celebrity is a great personality and image match for the brand, more than anything else. A large luxury hotel chain recently roped in actor Ajay Devgn to be their ambassador, and it worked against them because people couldn’t connect Devgn’s personality with luxury. 

However, for brands that don’t have the luxury of sky-high marketing budgets, clever collaborations with the right creators can go a long way in cutting through the clutter, reaching the right audience in a cost-effective manner, and educating their consumers on the USPs of their products through a voice that is unique, authentic, trusted and loved.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the authors and do not in any way represent the views of

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