Gen Z and Millennials pioneered the age of the influencer a while ago, dismantling celebrity as we knew it and changing the face of marketing to boot. And while the pandemic (not to mention celeb scandals) threw the future of influencer marketing into question in 2020, 2021 proved to be a boon year for influencers: niche interests, such as investing and esports, spawned new classes of online celebs, 44% of European brands increased their influencer marketing budgets, and spending in the sector rose from $13.8 billion in 2021 to $16.4 billion in 2022—and is expected to reach $143.10 billion by 2030, according to Grand View Research. Now, influencer-backed brands are more popular than ever, thanks to “that combination of expertise and passion for a niche product, a built-in community of people who really trust their recommendations, and an incredible feedback loop.”
Fueling this, of course, is young consumers’ affinity for their favorite online celebs, which is only growing as certain platforms (ehem, TikTok) continue to dominate their attention—and as more young consumers become influencers themselves. As we found in our New Content Creators trend report, many young consumers see social media as a career and even more want to partner with brands, fueling the rise of nano-influencers, who are proving to be just as influential as those with huge followings. Now, nearly half of young consumers in both Western Europe and North America say they follow an online celebrity, and in both regions, 67% agree, “it’s not a big deal when online celebrities post sponsored content.” But whose attention and trust are online content creators capturing the most? And are consumers in one region being influenced more than the other? Three charts from our Celebrities and Influencers behavioral report tell the story:
Young consumers in both regions have high affinity for influencers—but young Europeans trust other public figures more
YPulse has long said that Gen Z and Millennials are most drawn to celebrities that look, act, talk, and think like them—and that it’s the online variety that are ticking these boxes. Now, young consumers in both regions say that online celebs are the most relatable, and this feeling of kinship is driving how much they trust them. Our most recent data shows that out of a wide variety of public figures, young Europeans and North Americans trust online celebrities the most, with 39% of respondents in both regions putting their faith in influencers. And for a third of young consumers in both regions, they’d rather spend a day with their favorite online celebrity over a TV, movie, or music star (even higher among Gen Z), showing just how important these figures are to them.
But there is a difference in the trust young Europeans and North Americans place in other public figures, which tells a slightly deeper story. For young Europeans, authors, bloggers, filmmakers, and podcasters are a close second to online celebs, and police / politicians a close third. For North Americans, the gap is far wider—and they trust police / politicians far less. On the one hand, this shows that more traditional celebs and public figures have more cache with young Europeans. But the bigger takeaway for brands is that influencer marketing may be even more important in North America when it comes to gaining not only their attention but also their trust.
While young consumers have the same level of trust for online celebs, that doesn’t mean the platforms that host their favorite content creators are the same:
Instagram creators are capturing young Europeans’ attention, while North Americans are partial to YouTubers
Since we started surveying young Europeans, we’ve seen Instagram dominate their social media behaviors, remaining one of their most-used and favorite apps, as well as the one young content creators in the region are using the most. So it’s no wonder then that Instagram also hosts young Europeans’ favorite celebs and influencers. In North America, meanwhile, Instagram has had a steady fall from grace as TikTok quickly rose to become the region’s favorite app and, more recently, as it’s faced major backlash from users for the changes it’s made to keep up with the TikTok competition. Now, young North Americans are -16pts less likely to say that Instagram has its favorite celebs. Instead, YouTube once again tops their list, underscoring the reason why YPulse has long called them the YouTube Generation. Gen Z and Millennials have had lifelong exposure to the video-sharing platform, and it’s shaped their behaviors and preferences for everything from entertainment to shopping to education. Now, in both regions, YouTubers top the list of public figures they trust most.
But while YouTube and Instagram take the top two slots in both regions, it should be noted that just over half of young Europeans and just under half of North Americans say that TikTok has their favorite online celebs. Among Gen Z, this rises to 69% in WE and 66% in NA, making TikTok the No. 2 platform for the younger generation in both regions. Again, this should come as no surprise: young consumers turn to TikTok for entertainment, and it’s fast become the place that creates the viral trends and pop culture moments they care about most. As creators on the platform continue to become legit celebs, it’s likely young consumers’ favor for TikTok stars will continue to grow.
For brands, this means there are options when it comes to choosing what creators to work with—and therefore what platform. But just how much are these influencers really influencing young consumers? Well…
Online celebs are influencing young Europeans’ purchasing habits the most
The majority of young consumers in both regions say that they’ve purchased something that an online celeb has spoken about or recommended, underscoring the level of influence these content creators really have on Gen Z and Millennials’ purchasing habits. But young Europeans are +6pts more likely than their North American peers to have opened their wallets at an influencer’s behest, which means that brands have an even greater chance of reaching young consumers in this region by partnering with online celebs.
But that’s not to say young North Americans aren’t also being influenced to purchase. After all, YPulse’s Fits for the Feed trend report shows that social media is the top place young consumers in both regions are finding fashion brands and inspiration, and influencers big and small are driving the rise of social commerce. #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt now has 49B views (and counting), and a third of young consumers in both regions tell YPulse they’ve purchased something from that or a similar hashtag. Meanwhile, Instagram’s shopping feature has proven a huge success, and TikTok Shop has also hit the feed, allowing creators and brands to recommend and showcase products directly to consumers.
The bottom line is that, while there may be some differences between young Europeans and North Americans when it comes to their relationships to online celebs, overall, brands have a strong chance of reaching young consumers in both of these regions by tapping the power of influencer marketing.