Analysis: ​Is the proof of influencer marketing in the pudding?

Has Celeste Barber single-handedly proven the worth of influencers?

Amid all the jokes of ‘Scotty from Marketing’ and the general cries of a lack of authentic leadership in the current bushfire crisis, one Australian has used the power of social marketing to raise over $51 million in support of the NSW Rural Fire Service.

This fundraiser is the largest in Facebook’s history globally. But even more overwhelmingly, and in the face of large corporations and politician spruiking their own fundraisers, this one has been undertaken by an influencer with a fairly small celebrity profile sharing a personal story on a social media platform, a platform which is supposed to be on the decline.

All jokes about Scotty from marketing aside, there is no clearer demonstration of old school versus modern marketing in this time of crisis. The old school version of marketing, where one controls the narrative and pushes out key messaging to an audience relying on traditional media to form opinions, is not only no longer relevant, it is also clearly ineffective.

Consumers will, however, listen to personal messaging and authenticity from a person they trust backed by actual action. While ScoMo continues to push out messages that aren’t resonating, Celeste Barber has quietly told a personal story, linked it to action, and gotten the work done, to the point where she has become to unofficial face of the cause.

As many in the industry agree, she has inadvertently reached the leadership trifecta: Trust, connection and authenticity.

The ongoing relevance of influencers

There has been a healthy scepticism around influencers and whether they are increasingly just another form of paid shills. Arguably, those who simply take money for product or comment are, and this is reflected in their lack of success. However, as this fundraiser shows, there is still room for influencers who make an emotional connection, are emboldened by a real cause, looking to do real good, all while telling stories in an authentic way.

GroupM digital strategy and investment Officer, Venessa Hunt, agreed. “In recent years, there has been scepticism around influencers and their true power to effect change, however this example quietens the critics.  It shows when positive power comes from an influential person, using their profile and their audience, they can achieve something incredible,” she told CMO

“Celeste Barber as the face of this fundraiser speaks to the power of authenticity, and the right influencer aligned with the right cause. It also shows the possibility and opportunity we all have to use social media with purpose and to bring collective power to really change the world." 

As Hunt herself feels, many are heartbroken by the unprecedented scale and severity of the bushfires in our region.

"The success of the fundraiser, as well as the enormous outpouring of community support across Australia, and the world, to help out those affected is truly overwhelming. We are at the beginning of a long road to rebuild our great country and no doubt that social media will play a huge role in highlighting ways to aid the recovery,” she said.

Fitness First head of marketing, Matt Fletcher, agrees the success of the fundraising should be attributed in part to the influencer.

“Influencers have the power to inspire a community. The most successful influencers are able to create inspirational movements,” he said. “As we all know, the most effective marketing always starts with a problem to solve or a change to make, rather than a solution to engineer into our plans. I think Celeste’s incredible fundraiser shows what can happen when a community is inspired with a problem to help solve. Celeste facilitated her community into remarkable movement.”

Publicis Media director of social, Filip Sarna, saw what Barber has done to be been nothing short of incredible.

"Celeste inadvertently provided an early solution to what became an ever-growing need for the public; a trusted identity that the average person could trust with their money," he said. "An influencer alone may not have achieved this. But when you connect three proxies for authenticity, community and trust, you have the underlying ingredients for the momentum that Celeste has inspired.
"In choosing where to donate, we seek confirmation that our donations will reach those in need. And so when a trusted individual [Celeste Barber] shares her personal story at the main town square (Facebook), that uses a trusted financial institution [PayPal] to collect donations, she instantly became a proxy to the trust and legitimacy that we fundamentally seek.
"Celeste might not see herself as an influencer, but her celebrity status, together with her passionate and personal story-sharing results in her being a beacon of authenticity and authority, and by default a shortcut for our charity-choosing process.”

Over at brand consultancy, Kantar, the view is it is both the influencer and the power of authenticity that has made this particular effort such a roaring success.

“The key to success in the influencer space is heavily reliant on bringing the brand/message to the community in a genuine and authentic manner,” its executive director, media and digital, Mark Henning, said.

“Celeste expressed her genuine concern and support for those affected by and helping to fight the fires. In doing so she tapped into a broad public feeling and showed a clear way for people to do something to help. So, yes some of the success is due to Celeste’s appeal – she needed to have a network large enough to get the support started, however the viral success was driven by the authenticity behind the message and action.”

Hypetap CEO and founder, Detch Singh, added influencers can be extremely powerful when it comes to doing social good.

“Celeste Barber's fundraising effort is only one of many examples of what we are seeing influencers achieve for the bushfire victims and fire authorities. The combined endeavours of these influencers are a massive contribution to the fundraising effort at large," he said. "Influencers are extremely powerful, particularly when it comes to social good. We've seen it happen across campaigns for government and NGOs where positive messaging can go very far in raising awareness when it aligns with what the influencer stands for. 

“In the case of Celeste, the direct impact this bushfire has had on her in-laws has allowed her to illustrate how damaging and how real it has been for the community. Being able to tell that story first hand has contributed to how well this has resonated with her audience."

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook:  


Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Latest Videos

More Videos

More Brand Posts

Blog Posts

Marketing prowess versus the enigma of the metaverse

Flash back to the classic film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Television-obsessed Mike insists on becoming the first person to be ‘sent by Wonkavision’, dematerialising on one end, pixel by pixel, and materialising in another space. His cinematic dreams are realised thanks to rash decisions as he is shrunken down to fit the digital universe, followed by a trip to the taffy puller to return to normal size.

Liz Miller

VP, Constellation Research

Why Excellent Leadership Begins with Vertical Growth

Why is it there is no shortage of leadership development materials, yet outstanding leadership is so rare? Despite having access to so many leadership principles, tools, systems and processes, why is it so hard to develop and improve as a leader?

Michael Bunting

Author, leadership expert

More than money talks in sports sponsorship

As a nation united by sport, brands are beginning to learn money alone won’t talk without aligned values and action. If recent events with major leagues and their players have shown us anything, it’s the next generation of athletes are standing by what they believe in – and they won’t let their values be superseded by money.

Simone Waugh

Managing Director, Publicis Queensland

Sign in