Divyapratap Mehta
Guest Article

The big shift: From advertising creating influencers to influencers creating advertising

Are we missing the big shift in influence that is changing advertising?

I recently saw the Airtel ad and the return of the iconic Airtel girl. It triggered multiple thoughts in my head. Is she still relevant? Do the younger millennials connect with her? Is there a new trick in the bag that we are missing?

We started our careers in an era where media was an all-powerful one-sided relationship. Beaming content had a huge impact on popular culture. Advertising too had a huge influence on the lives of people and in popular culture.

This gave rise to iconic advertising and characters that were imprinted in our collective memory. From Hari Sadoo, to Preity Zinta turning famous as the Perk girl, to the Airtel girl. Advertising had the power to turn regular people into celebrities.

Some of these questions led me to a larger shift that we are probably witnessing. Does advertising have the same influence in the age of social media, an era where the millennials are always on, connecting with the mini stars, called influencers on social media? Today, the relationship has moved from one-way beaming to a more conversational engagement with the consumers.

These questions further opened a box of discovery when one sees the large amount of ads today, starring social media influencers like Prajakta Koli for Gillette and WhatsApp. Bhuvan Bam is another popular influencer in the Lenskart, Pizza Hut and Myntra ads.

Then there are content creators, like Mithila Palkar, who is collaborating with brands like Tanishq, Shayon Roy for Upstox, Barkha Singh for Amazon, Kusha Kapila is in an ad for Dineout. The list is endless. This is not small. It is, undoubtedly, a phenomenon that we need to take notice of, and give considerable thought to, as far as the future of advertising goes.

Social media is creating new celebrities, with their sphere of influence. People are having more one-on-one conversations with their role models. These influencers generate content on an always-on basis, engaging their audience, and yet being accessible for conversations and feedback.

We now see so many influencers being featured in ads, creating their own branded content. This is, undoubtedly, a big shift and we can easily imagine more of this happening as brands find new ways to engage with the consumers in this new environment.

This will also have an impact on the heavy use of Bollywood celebrities and sportstars in advertising. While these stars will still have influence, the winners will be the ones with an active social media footprint.

The rise of these new social media stars, who will not only fight for their share of endorsements, but may also be preferred by certain brands looking for always-on engagement and connecting with the millennials. Marketing and brand strategy experts will have to make tough choices between these bottom-up stars to the big media stars.

This is a shift of influence at a fundamental level. Influencers are capable of actually being the message, with the medium and advertising being mere vehicles in their bag of content and engagement.

Are we entering an era where, instead of advertising creating influencers, the pivot has shifted to the influencers being powerful message creators and using advertising as just one of the tools to further propagate their influence?

If such is the case, then it is time advertising thinks harder to keep up with the times and change the dynamics of engagement. We need to think harder on how to also leverage this new phenomenon in the larger interest of the brands we serve.