Commentary

Evolving Definition Of Celebrity Among Gen-Z Consumers

In the past, gaining fame required taking specific paths. You had to be a singer, a band member or an actor and use mainstream media to reach as many people as possible.

In the past decade, social networks opened new channels to gain fans, but music and acting remained the main paths to becoming a celebrity.

More recently, new paths to fame have emerged. Today, you don’t need to sing or act to amass thousands of fans and earn millions of dollars. You can be an Instagram influencer and earn as much as $18,000 per post. Many YouTubers who don’t act or sing make a living by vlogging about their lives.

One of the more unusual ways of becoming a celebrity today is by becoming a gamer. In September, the streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins became the first esports player to be featured on the cover of ESPN Magazine. Ninja told CNBC he makes $500,000 a month exclusively from gaming, with fees adding up from video subscribers who watch him play.

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This evolving definition of celebrity emerged as a major theme in a study that examined the attitudes and expectations of Gen-Z players toward the multiplayer game Fortnite. We engaged more than 900 players, collected hundreds of videos and images, and uncovered insights on the increasing influence of streamers.

Just as Influential as Mainstream Celebrities

A majority of Gen-Z players said they consider famous streamers as being on the same level as “normal” celebrities like Steph Curry, Cardi B or Ariana Grande. Additionally, 45% selected a streamer (Ninja, NICKMERCS, dakotaz) as their fave over Steph, The Rock or other celebs.

The lesson here: popular names within a smaller enthusiast group (video game streaming, or comic icons, etc.) can hold a lot of sway. If you’re looking for spokespeople, consider looking beyond mainstream names. Working with niche stars is often cost-effective, and since they are seen as experts by their followers, they can be just as influential.

Look Beyond Numbers

Looking at follower numbers is a good starting point when evaluating online, but depending on the platform, a person’s subscriber number may or may not be meaningful. When people subscribe on YouTube, the content creator doesn’t get compensated for simply having a new subscriber. People can click the subscribe button even if they might not ever come back to that creator’s channel.

In contrast, on Twitch, subscribing is a monetary transaction and the streamer earns a portion of that money. The subscriber number on Twitch is more meaningful that way, since it’s not merely a popularity stat.

Our study found that most Gen Z players subscribe to the streamer’s channel or just watch, but they don’t participate in any other interaction. Sales of the streamer’s merch or monetary donations are unlikely.

But while players aren’t likely to check out a streamer’s sponsors, pursuing partnerships may still be worth it. Many companies agree, with top streamers now sponsored by brands such as Doritos, Intel and Gillette.

If you’re looking to partner with streamers, do research to understand their true influence. Engage your audience to understand which online personalities have influence beyond simple name recognition. There should be a connection between the influencer’s expertise and your offering, so talk to your audience to determine fit.

Sharing Their Own Content

While Gen-Z players watch popular streamers, they also create their own content. One in five players posts their Fortnite videos on YouTube — even the young teen Gen-Zers.

Overall, Fortnite excels at creating a meme culture. This is due to the game’s playful design and ever-changing nature. More importantly, when Fortnite players win, they consider it a big deal and want to brag about it by posting videos.

Likewise, any brand can enable customers to share their content about their products. Regular customers may not have the reach of celebrities, but they can create word of mouth, which is still valuable marketing. 

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