Does the Development of Cognitive Dissonance Inhibit the Success of Influencer Marketing?

An Empirical Study on Implicit Associations Towards Influencers as New Advertising Ambassadors

Master's Thesis, 2020

102 Pages, Grade: 1,3






List of Figures

List of Tables

1. Introduction
1.1 Changes in Marketing
1.2 Aims and Objectives
1.3 Methodological Approach and Structure of the Thesis

2. Identification and Initial Review of Key Literature
2.1 Opinion Leadership
2.1.1 The Two-Step-Flow of Communication
2.1.2 Functions and characteristics of opinion leaders
2.1.3 Typology
2.1.4 The Role of Opinion Leaders in Diffusion Theory
2.1.5 Opinion Leadership - Online
2.2 Influencer Marketing
2.2.1 Definition of Influencer Marketing
2.2.2 Classification and Distinction from other Forms of Marketing
2.2.3 Types of Influencer
2.2.4 Consumer Attitude towards Influencer Marketing
2.2.5 Influencer Marketing in Germany
2.2.6 Influencer Marketing during Corona
2.3 The Concept of Stereotypes
2.3.1 Homo Categoricus
2.3.2 Emergence of Stereotypes
2.3.3 Functions
2.3.4 Application to Influencer Marketing
2.4 Influencing Factors in the Purchasing Process
2.4.1 The Purchase Decision Process
2.4.2 Principles of Influence
2.4.3 Authenticity
2.4.4 Credibility
2.4.5 Alternative Models
2.5 Theory of Cognitive Dissonances
2.5.1 Principles
2.5.2 Emergence of Dissonance
2.5.3 Strength of Dissonance
2.5.4 Purchasing Dissonances
2.5.5 Dissonance Reduction and Elimination
2.5.6 Extensions and Modification of Festinger's Theory
2.6 Research Gap

3. Research Design
3.1 Objectives
3.2 Hypothesis
3.3 Method
3.3.1 Measurement of Attitudes
3.3.2 Implicit Association Test (IAT)
3.3.3 Participants
3.3.4 Structure of the Empirical Study
3.3.5 Structure of the IAT
3.4 Measures
3.5 Results and Interpretation
3.6 Limitation
3.6.1 General Limitation
3.6.2 Limitation of the IAT

4. Discussion
4.1 Summary of Key Findings
4.2 Perspective

List of References



Influencer marketing is unquestionably one of the most present marketing disciplines in modern media. The main reason for this development is the decreasing trust of consumers in classical advertising. Currently, however, voices that describe influencer as inauthentic, calculating and manipulative are becoming louder and stronger. A growing number of consumers1 are recognizing influencer marketing less as recommendation marketing and much more as continuous advertising.

However, the actual KPIs, such as sales figures for this form of marketing are not decreasing. The present master's thesis addresses the subject of the development of cognitive dissonance and its potential inhibitory effects on the success of influencer marketing. The focus lies on the one hand on the investigation of the topic on the foundation of a theoretical literature analysis of meaningful theories, as well on the other hand on the execution of an empirical study. The theoretical investigation of the topic is carried out in the introductory chapter `Identification and Initial Review of Key Literature´ on the basis of literature and applied, practical examples. The empirical investigation is based on the research question: Which effect do cognitive dissonances have on the purchase of products advertised by influencers?" and the hypothesis: Consumers tend to possess unconscious, automated attitudes in the arrangement of bias or stereotypes towards influencer marketing. In order to investigate these, an implicit association test with pictorial and literal stimuli to the categories influencer and classic advertising figure was created. In this study 59 persons participated as valid test participants. The central results of the research show that both explicit and implicit attitudes towards influencers and their form of marketing exist. Cognitive dissonances resulting from this are very likely, though an actual slowing down of these attitudes on the purchasing process of products advertised by influencers cannot be confirmed fully. Since the proven implicit attitudes only show a medium IAT effect, a retardation of the purchase decision can be assumed. However, as current figures from influencer marketing indicate, a final inhibition cannot be assumed in total.

List of Figures

Figure 1: Two-Step-Flow of Communication Model

Figure 2: Functions of Opinion Leaders

Figure 3: Diffusion Curve

Figure 4: Central Aspects of Online Communication

Figure 5: Connection between Influencer Marketing and related Marketing Activities

Figure 6: Typification of Influencers based on different Characteristics

Figure 7: When are Germans willing to trust Influencers?

Figure 8: How do Influencers influence the Purchase Decision?

Figure 9: What qualities must an Influencer have for you to trust him?

Figure 10: Distribution of Influencers by Tiers

Figure 11: How will the Relevance of Influencer Marketing develop in the Future?

Figure 12: The seven Aspects of Stereotypes

Figure 13: Stereotypes against Influencer

Figure 14: Five-phase model of the purchase decision, Kotler

Figure 15: Principles of Influence

Figure 16: Dissonances during Purchasing Processes

Figure 17: Applied Dissonance Reduction

Figure 18: Response Overview of the Study

Figure 19: Response over Time

Figure 20: Diana zur Löwen - Aknederm Advertising Example

Figure 21: Stefanie Luxat for Armedangels

Figure 22: Discrimination Tasks (Trials) of the IAT

Figure 23: Applied Dissonance Reduction

List of Tables

Table 1: Distinguishing Features of Locals and Cosmopolitans

Table 2: Typology of Influencer - Overview

Table 3: Six Functions of Stereotypes

Table 4: Alternative Models of Influence

Table 5: Extensions and Modification of Festinger´s Theory

Table 6: Gender Distribution

Table 7: Concepts, attributes and stimuli of the IAT

Table 8: Procedure of the IAT

Table 9: Frequency Table for Brand- / Influencer Awareness

Table 10: Evaluation Brand Perception - AkneDerm

Table 11: Evaluation Brand Perception – Armedangels

Table 12: Evaluation Brand Perception – Diana zur Löwen

Table 13: Evaluation Brand Perception – Stefanie Luxat

Table 14: T-Test – Comparison between Classic Brand Ambassador and Influencer

Table 15: Presentation and Evaluation of IAT-Stimuli combinations

Table 16: Evaluation of the IAT – D-Score

1. Introduction

1.1 Changes in Marketing

“People influence people, nothing influences people more than a recommen- dation from a trusted friend. A trusted referral influences people more than the best broadcast message. A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising.”

Mark Zuckerberg, 2007

With this quote Mark Zuckerberg states an important issue for modern marketing. Classic advertising often receives little or no attention at all. Advertisements in newspapers are quickly flipped over and the television channel is switched directly to avoid advertisement. The online form of this behaviour is known as ad blockers, which completely ban advertisements from websites (Daurer & Krohn, 2016). For industry and marketers, this means that classic push strategies are increasingly failing to have the desired effects (Brown & Hayes, 2015). Especially campaigns that interrupt the consumer during activities are mostly perceived as purely disruptive and damage the image of the brand from the view of the customer (Pimpl, 2016). The advertising form: product placement, which influencers use as well, is presenting the products as a part of the content (Daurer & Krohn, 2016). Due to that, the recipient has the feeling of receiving a friend's recommendation (Brown & Hayes 2015). This enables influencer marketing to have what conventional, classic advertising strategies lack: the full attention of the customer (Daurer & Krohn, 2016).

Studies show, that there are approximately 30,000 Influencers in Europe (Bottesch, 2018). Within the year 2017, the influencers generated total net revenues (monetary and non-monetary) of around EUR 560 million (Bottesch, 2018). According to Goldmedia's forecast, the market for influencer marketing in the DACH region will grow by around 20 percent annually and thus reach the billion mark by the end of 2020 (Bottesch, 2018). Companies are well aware of this trend. With investments of around EUR 18.4 billion, the United Kingdom is ranked first in the ranking of European countries with the highest investments in online advertising in 2018, followed by Germany with investments of around EUR 7.2 billion (IAB Europe, 2019).

Even though the market for influencer marketing is large and the benefits are convincing, in the end it's all about consumers. Most of them have prejudices, stereotypes and aversion to influencers (Gerrig, 2015). How can such a large market potential arise despite this fact? This paper will examine the role of stereotypes in influencer marketing and their effect on buying behaviour.

1.2 Aims and Objectives

The overall aim of this work is to detect and analyse the effects of stereotypes on the recipient of influencer marketing, whether they can cause cognitive dissonance and to what extent this can indoctrinate the consumer's decision to buy. To this end, the function, meaning and theory of influencer marketing, stereotypes, the general process of the purchase decision and the construct of cognitive dissonance were first examined through a theoretical analysis of the conceptual framework. In addition, the `conceptual framework´ section will present models that are possible means of increasing the effect of influence on buying behaviour. In the empirical part of this thesis, potential explicit or implicit attitudes will be investigated. If dissonances can be found, the question arises how the customer resolves them and to what extent they actually influence a purchase.

After these theories, on which the work is based have been demonstrated, the empirical part is devoted to the actual research question:

Which effect do cognitive dissonances have on the purchase of products advertised by influencers?

As will be described later, this research question enables the formation of further sub questions. In the course of this work some of them can be answered. However, this is not guaranteed. Nonetheless, in order to require a framework for the objectives of the thesis, the specified outlines of the Paper are as following:

1. To critically review the model of influencer marketing and its correlation to the stereotypes and the emergence of cognitive dissonances.
2. To critically review research on determinants of the purchasing behaviour via influencer marketing.
3. To analyse – via an implicit association test - whether and if so, up to what extend dissonances within influencer marketing are having an impact on the customers purchasing process.
4. To evaluate how the findings are affecting or even inhibiting the actual purchasing process

The findings of this work are then to be analysed alongside an overview of the various theories relating to influence and the resulting purchasing behaviour. By discussing the results and making recommendations for action, a direct reference to practical influencer marketing is to be established.

1.3 Methodological Approach and Structure of the Thesis

This master thesis obeys the traditional structure of an empirical thesis. The classic introduction is followed by the conceptual framework and the theoretical treatment of the topic based on an extensive literature research.

The conceptual framework includes the topics of influencer marketing, principles of influencing and cognitive dissonance. For this purpose, sufficient theories and models, such as those for opinion leadership or the purchase decision process, will be defined and put in relation to practical application. Following the topic of influence during purchase decisions, the theory of cognitive dissonance is to be examined theoretically. This theory forms the basis for the empirical study that will follow and is essential for understanding the research question posed.

The methodological part of this thesis deals with the procedure for the preparation of the implicit association test (IAT), the implementation as well as the investigation and analysis of the data to evaluate the results. For this thesis a research with four subdivisions was established. The first two parts function as preliminary studies and check the explicit attitude towards the brand and the influencers. The third part, which is the main research part, examines the implicit attitude of the subjects by using an implicit association test. In this test, the participants were presented with the two forms of advertising: ‘classic advertising figure’ and ’influencer’. These must be assigned to positive or negative attributes by discrimination tasks. In the last part of the research the demographic data of the participants were collected.

The discussion section will conclude by linking the findings of the research with the theoretical models described above. The reference to the outgoing research question should always be made. In addition, procedures and models are critically reviewed. This allows the limitation of the thesis and further research to be defined.

2. Identification and Initial Review of Key Literature

2.1 Opinion Leadership

The term `opinion leader´ was initial presented by Lazarsfeld, Berelson and Gaudet in a study on personal influence within the setting of political issues in the year 1944 (cf. Dressler & Telle, 2009, p.10). In a study called `people´s choice´ during the 1940´s presidential election, it was found that some voters were able to convey their opinions and attitudes towards other voters more influentially than others (cf. Ahrens & Dressler 2011, p. 61). Due to this, it is to be said that "on every occasion and for every public question there are very specific people who care about these problems particularly intensively and who also express themselves most about them. We call them the opinion leaders" (Lazarsfeld et al., 1969, p. 84).

Opinion leaders have the ability to influence the attitudes and behaviour of others by simply operating with interpersonal communication as they are frequently asked for advice in their respective subject areas. Their advice is most often higher accepted than that of non-opinion leaders (cf. Dressler & Telle, 2009: 10). The basis for opinion leadership is said to be `professional competence´ or `informedness´ as well as a high level of involvement in a specific topic area (cf. Dressler & Telle, 2009, pp. 10-13). In addition to the subject-specific competence, Möller (2011, p. 40) attributes a high degree of social competence to opinion leaders as a decisive characteristic. Consequently if communication skills increase, an increased number of personal contacts can be assumed (Möller, 2011, p. 40). In summary, the term `leader of opinion´ describes individuals, who act as reference persons and exert influence on other people, as they are often asked for advice. However, being an opinion leader´ is not a personality trait, but a certain form of behaviour, that emerges during the communication process (Dressler & Telle, 2009, p. 13). Opinion leaders are interested in following the topics of their interest over a long period of time and are seeking to receive topic-specific media content more frequently and more intensively (Peters 1996). In doing so, they do not generally use mass media more frequently, but more specifically. Furthermore, they inform themselves more habitually from special publications about their area of competence or interest (Nisbet, 2005). Due to their high involvement, prior knowledge, and interest, opinion leaders also process the information they receive as less involved and can interpret and classify it better (Schenk, 2007, p. 383). Nevertheless, the relevant predictor for the status as an opinion leader does not have to be factual knowledge.

After distinguishing the relevance of opinion leaders, Lazarsfeld, Berelson and Gaudet developed the Two-Step-Flow of Communication in 1968 (Dressler & Telle, 2009). The following chapter will also address the functions and characteristics of opinion leaders and typology, as well as the role of opinion leaders in diffusion theory and the novel phenomenon of online opinion leadership.

2.1.1 The Two-Step-Flow of Communication

Due to the discovery of opinion leadership, Lazarsfeld, Berelson and Gaudet were able to disprove the omnipotence of the mass media and highlight the efficiency of personal influencing potential to individuals (Dessler & Telle, 2009, p. 28).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: Two-Step-Flow of Communication Model

Source: Own Illustration, based on Schenk 2007

The figure above illustrates the process of the two-step-flow of communication. According to these, the behaviour and attitude of less interested people can change primarily through personal contacts (Dressler & Telle, 2009, p. 26). Moreover, the hypothesis describes the flow of information in the mass media.

In the first stage, the model shows the interplay between mass media and opinion leaders: Compared to others, opinion leaders use mass media selectively and can therefore receive information, relevant to the topic, directly from TV or print. The second stage demonstrates the flow direction of personal influence. The influence of opinion leaders affect others, mainly those who belong to the same social class. Therefore, opinion leaders filter data or information from the media and pass it further to the rest of the population. What is important to highlight, is the fact that they do not share neutral information anymore, but rather share their own opinion and in this way directly influence the opinions of others. Even though non-opinion leaders use mass media as well, their use is very selective, as they only deal with communication messages that correspond to their own attitudes. According to the two-step-flow of communication, the individuals of a society are connected in a network by social and communicative relationships through which mass communication is conducted (Dressler & Telle, 2009, pp. 26-28).

2.1.2 Functions and characteristics of opinion leaders

Previous studies have made inconsistent and sometimes even contradictory statements regarding the characteristics of opinion leaders. One motive for this is the variability of methodological approaches used by various researchers. Another reason can be found in the understanding of the various definitions of an opinion leader. Nevertheless, some functions, regardless if online or offline context, have been identified in the empirical findings and have repeatedly proven to be relevant. Opinion leaders offline/real, as well as online/virtual social networks mostly fulfil five functions:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2: Functions of Opinion Leaders

Source: Own Illustration after Geise, 2017: 117 - 123

In research, certain characteristics have proven to be closely associated and in favor with opinion leadership. Those characteristics can occur in the person himself, including his knowledge and expertise, his communicative competence and his ability to integrate, etc. (Friemel 2008). However, they can also be attributed to the social environment of the opinion leader - for example, the social status or the size of their social network can influence the degree of appreciation they receives from it (Dressler & Telle 2009).

As the opinion leader is defined by its own influence, it is important to be strongly integrated into a social group which is characterised by common values and norms. Through strong group integration, innovative behaviour of the opinion leader can be adopted by other group members while at the same time confirming the group norms (Möller 2011: 40). Since the opinion leader is regarded as a credible source of information (Dressler & Telle 2009: 60), a certain degree of expertise can be assigned to him as a decisive characteristic (Hauptmann 2014: 80). Therefore, opinion leaders have a long-term involvement and a high level of curiosity in an exact area. Due to this, opinion leaders are characterised according to an active search for information and innovations (Möller 2011: 41). In connection with self-efficacy through a high level of knowledge, Möller (2011: 41) assumes a relatively high self-esteem as well as an increased degree of assertiveness and self-confidence among opinion leaders. Moreover, there may also be a relationship to extraversion (Möller 2011: 41).

The credibility and perceived expertise of an opinion leader is also strongly dependent on his or her language skills, so that opinion leaders are considered to be eloquent and are characterised by a rich vocabulary and expressive language (Hauptmann 2014: 81). Furthermore, they are not only socially more active but also have a higher presence and accessibility, which often means that opinion leaders maintain more contacts and are more popular (Hauptmann 2014: 81). Another characteristic feature is the tendency towards the public individual, which differentiates the opinion leader from others. A large number of opinion leaders can also be described as innovative, curious, adventurous, risk-averse, and cosmopolitan (Dressler & Telle, 2009, p. 141).

As a result, the opinion leader status cannot be determined exclusively from personality traits, but is rather being understood as a social role which persons can exercise situationally and topic-specifically. It is even possible to perform that role continuously, if their interaction partners grant them this role and accept the status of opinion leader (Haas, 2014).

2.1.3 Typology

In addition to characteristics (see chapter 2.1.2), some studies also deal with the typology of opinion leaders based on specific factors. The best-known study on typology is the so-called Rovere Study by Merton from the year 1949. Merton interviewed a sample of inhabitants (86 percent) from Rovere, USA, regarding their most influential persons. Out of a total of 379 persons surveyed, fifty-seven Persons were mentioned four times or more. Merton took this phenomenon as a criterion for identifying so-called 'influentials' (Holzer & Stegbauer, 2019). Thirty of those influentials were then interviewed and examined regarding their ability to influence and their communicative behaviour. This method was designed to identify, characterise, and typologies opinion leaders (Holzer & Stegbauer, 2019).

Based on these results it was possible to divide opinion leaders into so-called 'locals' and 'cosmopolitans'. The locals are characterised by their predominant interest in location-related issues. Consequently, topics which concern national or international dimensions remain mostly unnoticed by them (Holzer & Stegbauer, 2019). The cosmopolitans, on the other hand, are also interested in their close places, but they devote their attention mainly to national and international issues. They are therefore less location-bound, more mobile, and strongly economically oriented (Holzer & Stegbauer, 2019).

Table 1 below shows the distinguishing features of both types of opinion leaders.

Table 1: Distinguishing Features of Locals and Cosmopolitans

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: Own Illustration based on Holzer & Stegbauer, 2019

Especially in their areas of influence the two types differ significantly. The locals are being described as polymorph which means having influence on a multi-thematic list to a group of people. On the other hand, the cosmopolitans are described as monomorphic. The monomorphic opinion leadership usually entails a specific thematic interest (Nisbet, 2005). Since the interests of both parties are different, the communication habits differ as well. While the locals try to build up social networks as large as possible and to make the contacts quantitatively, the cosmopolitans selects his network with great care and aligns it qualitatively (Nisbet, 2005).

2.1.4 The Role of Opinion Leaders in Diffusion Theory

The history of diffusion research can be traced back to anthropological, biological, and sociological research. A pioneer of diffusion research within the economic sciences is Everett M. Rogers. His work: Diffusion of Innovations, published in 1962 formed the basis for further research in the field of diffusion of innovations (Rogers, 2005). The diffusion theory is therefore of considerable relevance for strategic planning, product development and especially for marketing (Mann 2011, p. 97). Diffusion research was founded in the 20th century by the sociologist Gabriel Tarde and is recorded within social systems by means of voluntary and individual takeover decisions (Möller, 2011). Tarde defined the term imitation as the copying of behaviour when using innovations (Mann, 2011). The diffusion theory is habitually represented by an S-curve and shows how much adaptation and diffusion is taking place within a certain period of time.

Nowadays, diffusion is understood as a special form of communication and thus also as an integral part of diffusion theory, since the information exchanged through messages containing new ideas (Mann, 2011). In terms of opinion leadership, these innovations can be positive or negative and likewise support or delay the diffusion (Dressler & Telle, 2009). If opinion leaders positively support the innovation, the speed of diffusion increases sharply and the characteristic S-curve reaches the threshold point. This effect of specifically addressing opinion leaders and the resulting recommendation can therefore have a encouraging influence on the adoption rate (Mann, 2011). Especially during the adoption phase, opinion leaders are assigned a decisive function, since information is needed for decision-making. Nevertheless, statements by opinion leaders on innovations can also have a highly negative impact. If opinion leaders are critical of the innovation and express this in front of their followers, there is a risk of a gatekeeper function, which describes the targeted withholding of information (Mann, 2011). The general behaviour of opinion leaders can be assessed just as critically. If they behave in an innovative and unusual manner, i.e. do not conform to standards, they are considered to be untrustworthy and potentially lose their status as opinion leaders (Mann, 2011).

Roger's diffusion theory explains the diffusion of innovations on the actual market. In this context, "innovation is defined as all ideas, processes and objects that are subjectively perceived as new for a social group" (Haas, 2020). As figure 3 shows, Roger divides people according to the time they need until they accept an innovation or integrate it into everyday life. Those groups are being described as: innovators, early adaptors, early majority, late majority and laggards (Rogers, 2010).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 3: Diffusion Curve

Source: Rogers 2010: 281

With a share of 2.5 percent, the smallest group in the diffusion curve are the innovators. Since they want to acquire extensive knowledge and keep up to date with news, they use every method at their disposal. Furthermore, they have a network of supplying sources that extends beyond the boundaries of their system (Rogers, 2003, p. 22). In order to be able to carry out their personal research work, innovators need a comprehensive technical understanding. They are aware of the risks involved in adopting innovation and are prepared for possible failures. Although they are largely responsible for introducing innovations into existing systems, innovators are not held in high esteem in today's society because of their willingness to take risks (Rogers, 2003, p. 282-283).

The early adopters already represent a larger share of the adopter types with 13.5 percent. When innovations are adopted, there is an intensive examination of the advantages and disadvantages of these. They mainly act within the boundaries of the scheme and are used as a source of information by the other members interested in adopting an innovation. A sufficient analysis of the innovation is therefore necessary in advance in order not to lose reputation in the process. Last existing doubts, however, are reduced for early adapters after a successful acquisition (Rogers, 2003, p. 283). Early adopters can be opinion leaders, as both groups have similar, almost identical characteristics. However, the term early adopter refers to the position of consumers in the adoption process, whereas the term opinion leader is mainly associated with the influence exercised (Rogers, 2003, p. 283).

The two groups of early and late majority belong to the two largest categories with 34 percent each. Members of the early majority are characterised in particular by the very conscientious behaviour and the length of time before innovation is adopted. The early majority only decides to innovate after a critical mass has been reached by other members of the system with whom they are in regular contact and exchange messages. No opinion leaders can be found in this group (Rogers, 2003, pp. 283-284). Members of the late majority are very suspicious and only adopt an innovation immediately after the late majority of a system has adopted the novelty. The last category, with a share of 16 percent, are the laggards. These are characterised by very conventional thinking and acting and, due to traditional values and norms, they are very different from the other members of the system. Laggards are very sceptical about innovations and exchange news mainly among their peers, which means that they are often the last to hear about an innovation. Because of this attitude, a novelty will only be adopted by laggards if they know that it has proven itself within the system (Rogers, 2003, pp. 284-285).

As influencers are considered more curious, than other users, they are known to inform themselves about news on the internet. As they have mostly independently gained their influence on the social web, they often belong to the group of early adopters, as claimed by Ahrens and Dressler (2011, p. 87). According to a study by Territory (2014), around 9 percent of the total world population are potential influencers.

2.1.5 Opinion Leadership - Online

The increasing distribution and use of online channels nowadays are additionally modifying and expanding the understanding of opinion leadership. Over the last twenty years, numerous researchers have therefore been working on the question of how the concept of opinion leadership and the Two-Step-Flow of communication can be transferred to the online and social media environment (Spears et al., 2012). This discussion similarly touches on a fundamental theoretical position, as the question arises whether and to what extent the phenomenon of opinion leadership, which is originally anchored in direct and immediate communication, can be transferred to online and social media contexts at all. Should this be possible, the question remains as to what adjustments will be necessary or to what extent mediatized opinion leadership may be a concept that is partly related but not identical (Lu et al., 2013).

The current state of research does not allow a theoretically based answer, since empirical studies can currently not provide a comprehensive understanding of possible online opinion leadership. Implicit considerations and initial research, however, spread the idea of an individual seeking advice on the internet and an individual giving advice (Tanks & Postmes, 2003). In order to be able to equate this with the theory of opinion followers and opinion leaders, it must also be observed critically. The communicative interactions in online and offline contexts differ significantly and are therefore forcing to consider especially the specifics of online communication (Tanks & Postmes, 2003). The principles of communitarisation, participation, and collaboration are amongst the central aspects characterising online and social media communication. The figure below shows an overview of those principles and their central aspects (Tanks & Postmes, 2003).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 4: Central Aspects of Online Communication

Source: Own Illustration based on Tanks & Postmes, 2003

Without a doubt, it is nowadays necessary to provide new types of media, such as social media, as a space for opinion leadership. A very vivid example for this is the YouTuber Florian Diedrich (born Mundt). His YouTube channel `LeFloid´ is ranked as #37 of all YouTube channels in Germany. In March 2020 the channel LeFloid had 3.2 million subscribers, each of his uploaded videos is viewed about one million times (SocialBlade, 2020). In 2015, he started his 'LeNews' format, in which he featured short, fast-paced videos on current events from politics, business, science, and pop culture twice a week (SocialBlade 2020). In contrast to classic news reporting, the proportion of commentary and evaluation of opinions in LeFloid's videos were significantly high. In 2013, the magazine Stern called him the "opinion leader of the YouTube generation" (Raab, 2013). If one agrees with this perspective, LeFloid could be recognized as an opinion leader in the sense of the Two-Step-Flow of Communication, who passes on information or views to a few interested network members. The German chancellor Angela Merkel also appears to see LeFloid as an opinion leader of his generation. In the summer of 2015, she gave him an interview on the argument that: "You can't ignore the younger viewers, who today are looking for just those channels other than classic media” (Lübberding, 2015).

2.2 Influencer Marketing

This chapter is devoted to the classic theoretical construct of influencer marketing, such as definition, classification and demarcation, as well as the different types of influencers and consumer attitudes. In order to further intensify this research area, an analysis of the situation in Germany, as well as at times of corona crisis, is also provided.

2.2.1 Definition of Influencer Marketing

Despite a long tradition, influencer marketing has now again become one of the most present trends in digital advertising for several years. Today, in addition to the classic media such as print and TV advertising, the internet is increasingly being used to obtain and distribute information (Ahrens & Dressler, 2011).

At its core, recent influencer marketing can be seen as a present day manifestation of the Two-Step-Flow of Communication mentioned in section 2.1.1 (Kreutzer & Land 2017). Influencer marketing is not only suitable as a communication instrument for reaching broad masses, but also beneficial in achieving a targeted, high-quality range of interested followers (Gerstenberg & Gerstenberg, 2016). The currently widespread term `influencer´ was introduced in 2007 and still refers to people who enjoy a high reputation within social networks (Buchenau & Fürtbauer, 2015). Grabs et al. (2018: 127) define influencers as "persons who influence other persons because of their reach, status or fame". Likewise, it should be added that influencers have made a name for themselves particularly because of their commitment or expertise in a specific area (Gerstenberg & Gerstenberg, 2016). As described in chapter 2.1.5, the cooperation between opinion leaders and companies is by no means innovative. What is new about the current influencer topic, in particular, is the strength of reach. As a result of the establishment, dissemination, and continuous improvement of the Web and the resulting change in the use of media, modern opinion leaders have a more diverse and promising opportunity to place advertising than previous classic advertising channels (Gerstenberg & Gerstenberg, 2016).

In order to maintain this, it is important that the influencer deals with a topic over a longer period of time in terms of content and competence. This enables him to build up an authority over his followers and the desired advertising-relevant effect occurs. Information that the influencer shares are regarded by his followers as facts and are not questioned. Although influencers can be people in public life, companies now prefer individuals who have achieved reach because of their quality content and expertise (Buchenau & Fürtbauer, 2015).

2.2.2 Classification and Distinction from other Forms of Marketing

Principally, both social media marketing as well as recommendation and content marketing have common characteristics to influencer marketing. Nevertheless, there are different characteristics in each form, which in turn differ from influencer marketing.

In this chapter, as shown in figure 5, a classification and at the same time a delimitation to the forms of marketing is intended: social media, content and recommendation marketing.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 5: Connection between Influencer Marketing and related Marketing Activities

Source: Nirschl & Steinberg, 2018, p.8

Since social media marketing describes market orientation and targeted use of social media as a main characteristic, this can be described as a superordinate form. The main focus is on the use of functions and mechanisms of social media for the distribution of products or services in command to get in interaction with the followers and thus with potential customers. Thereby, the communities are being used to effectively place the products, relevant for the respective followers (Nirschl & Steinberg, 2018). As far as this characteristic is concerned, influencer marketing can be classified as social media marketing, since both forms are used to spread products and services within the relevant target group of the influencer. The difference is rather within the distribution. Influencer marketing goes beyond mere dissemination, as the reach and influence is used to positively influence the perception of the brand or product and to ultimately support the brand beyond that and generate new customers (Nirschl & Steinberg, 2018).

In contrast, recommendation marketing insists on the principle that the most valuable thing a provider can do is to be recommended a customer (Nirschl & Steinberg, 2018, p. 9). Both social media marketing and influencer marketing take recommendation marketing to a new dimension. Due to the immense reach of an influencer, it is possible to provide recommendations to a large audience within a very short time. Furthermore, the special relationship between influencer and community is to be emphasized. As a result of this, the recommendation appears to be more effective for the recipient and is therefore perceived as even more positive. The followers will not question the recommendation, decide to buy faster, and correspondingly react less sensitive to the price of the product (Nirschl & Steinberg, 2018).

In the context of influencer marketing as well as in recommendation marketing and social media marketing, content and consequently the system of content marketing has a central position. Content marketing is defined as: " {...} a method to address the target group in order to convince them directly or indirectly of your own company and its range of services or brand. Content marketing should attract or retain customers without being too direct, too intrusive or even disturbing. {...} Content marketing does not focus on one's own company or product, but on content that offers added value" (Lammenett, 2017, p. 270).

In Content marketing, the interaction and networking of influencers and followers is generated by the content of the message and the product is ultimately distributed through this content. In the context of content marketing, influencers thus serve companies as inspiration for unusual contents of product messages. In addition, they work for companies as producers of content relevant for the target group in order to offer added value to their community and ultimately to the company (Nirschl & Steinberg, 2018).

In summary, it can be concluded that influencer marketing can be classified into related forms of marketing, but at the same spell is to be distinct from them. The significant distinction lies in the fact, that only with influencer marketing, the advertising message is conveyed by a private individual. The community of an influencer very rarely perceives the influencer as an agent of a company or even as an advertising figure. This offers mutual advantages to both, the company and the influencer, compared to other forms of marketing and is therefore the biggest success factor of this form.

2.2.3 Types of Influencer

Due to the enormous increase in demand for this form of marketing, today a suitable influencer can be found for almost every area. The influencers shown in figure 6 can be roughly classified into criteria such as social media channels, socio-demographics, and reach.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 6: Typification of Influencers based on different Characteristics

Source: Deges, 2018, p. 22

Even though the reach is by no means the only relevant factor in the evaluation of an influencer, companies mostly use this as an indicator. Mostly, a classification based on reach is made according to the categories micro or marco influencer.

Micro influencer are generally being described as persons with a follower number between 1,000 and 25,000 (Oliviera et al, 2020). This describes either a newcomer in the process of building a social network, in the process of becoming more popular, or an influencer with a focus on niche or local issues. Micro influencers are mostly people who live and work in the immediate surrounding of their followers, as they increasingly consist of friends, family, and acquaintances. This concludes, that they reach a relatively homogeneous target group. In addition, the less well-known micro influencers often have much greater competence in their respective fields (cf. Meyer, 2017, p. 22). As the micro influencer can only achieve a limited reach, the advantage lies in the possibility of intensive exchange and contact (Valsesia et al, 2020). Due to this, as well as the lower price, micro influencers become more and more attractive for commercial social media campaigns (Oliviera et al., 2020). Macro influencers are persons with a range of about 100,000 followers or more (Oliviera et al., 2020). These are usually not limited in terms of content. Due to the large number of followers, they attach increasing importance to offering diverse content and usually appear in several channels. This strategy is intended to simultaneously address potential new subscribers and increase the target group (Oliviera et al., 2020). In academic literature different models for the typology of influencers are mentioned. The table below summarizes the most relevant models in the author's opinion and their central aspects:

Table 2: Typology of Influencer - Overview

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: Own Illustration, based on Nirschl & Steinberg, 2018, Grabs et al, 2017 & Schindler, Liller, 2011 and Kawohl & Nestler, 2016.

2.2.4 Consumer Attitude towards Influencer Marketing

Despite the fact that influencer marketing has come under increasing criticism due to purchased reach, legal disputes, and influencing minors, more and more marketing budgets continue to move towards influencers. A survey by PwC shows that one in three Germans has already become aware of a brand or product through social media. In the age range 16-19 years, this rises up to 76 percent (PwC, 2018). Consumers' primary goal when using social media is entertainment, advice or inspiration (PwC, 2018). The question why German consumers seek for advice via influencers becomes clear in the following figure.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 7: When are Germans willing to trust Influencers?

Source: PwC, 2018

Sixty-four percent of the followers in the 16-19 age group say that influencers provide advantages in a potential purchase through coupon codes and discounts. Influencers are equally important to you as a source of inspiration for clothing, interior design or recommendations for restaurants or products. Forty-four percent of the respondents prefer the entertainment factor of influencers (PwC, 2018). The next logical move is to check if influencers are just serving as inspiration, or whether they can also inspire their followers to actually purchase of the advertised. According to PwC (2018), just under fifty percent of those surveyed actually bought a product advertised by influencers. Almost a third of the Germans also stated that they had already bought a product because of influencers (PwC 2018). When asked why the product was purchased, the probands provided the statements: `I trust the suggestions of the influencer´ and `The product presentation convinced me´ particularly often. The reasons of inspiration and the benefits of buying products advertised by influencers, which were mentioned earlier, also reappeared here. Nearly half of the followers stated that they feel part of the community through the purchase (PwC, 2018).


1 For reasons of the legibility the male form was chosen in this thesis. Nevertheless, the information refers to members of all genders.

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Does the Development of Cognitive Dissonance Inhibit the Success of Influencer Marketing?
An Empirical Study on Implicit Associations Towards Influencers as New Advertising Ambassadors
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does, development, cognitive, dissonance, inhibit, success, influencer, marketing, empirical, study, implicit, associations, towards, influencers, advertising, ambassadors
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Anonymous, 2020, Does the Development of Cognitive Dissonance Inhibit the Success of Influencer Marketing?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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