3 mins read

The rise of the “PLUs” (People Like Us): Why consumers are demanding representation in advertising


The use of celebrity influencers to showcase brands and products has been under scrutiny for a while, whether it’s the legitimacy of the plug or the promotion process itself. There have been numerous instances of influencers being picked up on their content not being consistent, or promoting products not aligned with their profile style, even in times of a global pandemic.

With the world spending more time on social media, it introduced a new question for brands when considering influencer partnerships: How can a celebrity using a branded product in an obvious paid partnership be deemed relatable for consumers, in times of crisis?

Portrayed humorously throughout the internet, there is a common thread and feeling of disapproval for celebrities and high profile influencers attempting to be relatable during the pandemic[1], highlighting the need for “PLUs”. People Like Us.

As a platform that gives brands and content creators the ability to collaborate on advertising, TRIBE has seen a clear increase in the appetite for the everyday influencer, with a +25% increase in campaign submissions since lockdown began in mid-March.

This demand clearly comes from consumers who expect businesses to focus on how products and company values can help people cope with pandemic-related life challenges, a view which is supported by an Edelman report showing that 84% of consumers share that expectation of brands with their current advertising efforts.[2] And the generic, homogeneous messaging we’re seeing repeatedly from brands isn’t appropriate in the current climate.[3]

An example of marketing agility in the past few weeks is dairy giant Arla, for their high protein yoghurts. They wanted to align with health & fitness creators to promote the high protein benefits for the health-conscious, on-the-go. In real-time, as news evolved in the UK, Arla tweaked their brief to reflect their consumer’s shift in context. They pivoted messaging from how the product could be enjoyed as a convenient post-workout protein hit, to being enjoyed in the home during lockdown, sharing more involved recipes like high-protein smoothies & at-home workout tips with followers.

Relevance and one-to-one communication is what bolsters customer loyalty as PLUs can share real-time, lived brand experiences (positive sentiment on Arla’s campaign was +20% above TRIBE benchmarks). And given smaller influencers don’t have a problem of scale (smaller audiences), they can respond to questions and comments about the product or service, where celebrities cannot – expanding Customer Service efforts for brands.

But it’s not just an increase in demand from brands that is growing the PLU space. Given people have more time on their hands than normal, with many suffering reduced incomes – more consumers are actively posting on social – turning their hand at becoming content creators themselves.

Something which may previously have been deemed an unattainable prospect is fast becoming destigmatised and a practicable way to supplement lost or lowered income. TRIBE saw a +20% increase in new submitting influencers since lockdown, with highest earners receiving on average £2,700 in March alone. 

And follower count is largely irrelevant when it comes to earnings. Influencers can’t post sponsored content every day (or their audience would completely switch off), so creators are supplementing their earnings by creating assets for brands to use in their advertising, providing the creative but not the platform.

The impact on brands is clear: budgets are smaller and consumer behaviour is transforming before our eyes. Companies still need to portray their products or services to audiences in a genuine, relevant way – but require agile methods to maintain relevancy with audiences in real-time.

At home, “nano”-influencer content is a viable way for brands to promote their product with relevance and legitimacy, whilst engaging a ready and waiting group of consumers who are looking to people like them for entertainment, connection, inspiration & advice.

Lisa Targett
UK General Manager, TRIBE