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Over a year ago, a deadly virus tugged the world into a deadlock causing worldwide panic. After the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, everyone was forced to stay at home except for essential workers. Schools, businesses, churches, and all non-essential establishments also shut their doors. This shutdown had a significant impact on commercial activities including the business of celebrity. The uncertainty that came with retail store closures, events cancellations, and all other forms of physical interactions, coupled with people losing their jobs put celebrity and influencer consumerism in a tight spot. As entire countries came under lockdown orders, brands were scrambling to adapt. The disruption caused by the pandemic forced brands to heed the call for an impactful industry reset. 

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Appropriateness and empathetic tone became the new commodity, and revenue making was simply put on the backburner. Young consumers mostly cared about how their favorite brands & influential figures reacted to the crisis. This prompted a greater emphasis on responsibility from a customer perspective and the demand for action from brands, celebrities, and influencers alike. Under intense scrutiny, brands and celebrities donated money and resources to coronavirus-related causes or just using their platform to raise awareness about the pandemic and the importance of social distancing. 

Image: Black Coffee

Through his Homebrewed platform, international house  music Dj and producer BlackCoffee raised over R500 000 to go towards the Solidarity Fund. Kim Kardashian’s loungewear brand Skims donated $1 million across a range of charities including the LA Regional Food Bank and the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Beyoncé’s charitable initiative, BeyGood, and Rihanna’s Lionel Clara Foundation teamed up with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s philanthropic arm, #startsmall, to donate US$6 million towards Covid-19 relief & US$15 million to mental health charities.

Image: Essence

Big brands converted their production lines to help serve the global fight against COVID-19 with French beauty giant L’Oréal Paris producing and distributing over 200 000 Hand Sanitizer Gels free of charge to essential workers. Dwayne ‘The Rock” Johnson used his brand partnership with sportswear brand Under Armour to outfit rescue workers with brand new pairs of Project Rock Under Armour shoes. The Cotton On Group has since become the first global retailer to partner with UNICEF in helping to deliver 1 million Covid-19 vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable. The brand’s global fundraising campaign headlined by Coming 2 America actress, Nomzamo Mbatha, pledged 100% of proceeds from the sale of the Cotton On Foundation products towards the support of delivering Covid-19 vaccinations, as part of the global COVAX response and diagnostic tests and treatments.  “This pandemic has impacted everyone, and vaccines need to be accessible to each and every person to help bring it to an end,” said the actress and Cotton On Foundation Ambassador. 

Image: Cotton On Foundation

Whilst most of the commercial transactions via brand partnerships hit pause, the demand for content and products that would enrich the lives of people during the pandemic soared, self-isolating at home people turned onto their cell phones for entertainment, dressing up was replaced with loungewear, fitness and self-grooming became paramount to most. Spend was more focused on essential items or self-improvement at home. The pandemic saw a substantial increase in social media traffic, which led to a total transformation in influencer marketing and more brands increasingly collaborating with influencers. As a result, brand partnerships amid the pandemic became fast-paced and imaginative.

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Without concerts, musicians turned to sponsored live streams. Major artists turned to brand partnerships for new revenue streams. Rapper Travis Scott partnered with the online game “Fortnite” in 2020 to host a free concert. The event pulled 27 million views and earned him an estimated $20 million in merchandise sales.  South African DJs Shimza and PH in association with Hunters Cider and Channel O also partnered to host a Lockdown House Party to keep South Africans partying responsibly at home during lockdown. Popular beauty content creator, Foyin Og kept brands knocking at her door through her viral #7days7faces make-up challenge, drawing the likes of NetflixSA and Foschini Beauty to mention a few.

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Instagram: @FoyinOg

The overall increase in online audience across social platforms prompted more brands to increase their collaborations, with influencers particularly. At the heart of these increased collaborations was the importance of engaging audiences with impactful messaging. People desperately wanted a sense of normality and stability amid the pandemic. Since influencer sponsorship deals, brand campaigns, and events were cancelled, postponed and money diverted elsewhere; celebrities and influencers kept their audiences engaged and entertained through content development and launches from home. With a focus on fitness, healthy eating, hobbies, beauty, loungewear, home entertainment, and more.

Instagram: @ilovemelmo

Into the future 

The digital footprint of a celebrity ambassador will continue to be a very important factor alongside rapid changes to content consumption. Digital influencers will likely continue to play an important role in effective digital marketing in the future. As things stand the pandemic does not seem it will end anytime soon, no one knows what a post-COVID future looks like. While the industry has embraced the new normal, it is impossible to tell how much of the current branding and marketing strategies will stick around when physical normalcy resumes.

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