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What makes digital influencers effective when targeting Generation Z consumers: an investigation of visual and verbal cues (Advert Reference: RDF22/BL/MOS/DJAF)

   Faculty of Business and Law

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  Dr Elmira Djafarova  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The impact of digital influencers on purchase decisions of consumers is growing rapidly and is only promising to increase its role in the future (Djafarova & Bowes, 2021). The influencer marketing industry is expected to reach a market size of 15 billion in 2022 while in 2016 it was 1.7 billion (Business Insider, 2021). Generation Z is the generation grown up surrounded by digital technology (Adeola et al., 2020; Djafarova & Bowes, 2021). They appreciate the online communication from brand and user generated content developed by digital influencers (Wolf, 2020).

Young consumers find the influencers relatable and authentic. However, not all digital influencers are effective in their communication and questions arisen on their authenticity and credibility. Range of tactics is used by the influencers to increase their followership, which includes both verbal and visual cues (Filieri et al., 2021). This study aims to identify specific visual and verbal cues impacting the effectiveness and persuasion of digital influencers on Generation Z purchase decisions.

The research will take qualitative approach. This will include focus groups and in-depth interviews with projective and elicitation techniques (Ghaffari et al., 2021). The objectives of this study include:

  • To identify the persuasion techniques used by digital influencers when targeting Generation Z
  • To develop theoretical framework defining key visual and verbal cues affecting the effectives of digital influencers

Although the phenomenon of digital influencers in marketing is relatively recent, academic literature on this research area is rapidly growing. Previous studies explored the credibility of influencers, both micro and macro celebrities, the effects of influencers within fashion, tourism and other industries (Casaló et al., 2017; 2020; Djafarova & Rushworth, 2017, Djafarova & Trofimenko, 2019). However, little attention has been paid to identify specific tactics used by digital influencers to persuade Generation Z consumers to make purchase decisions and this study aims to cover this gap (Djafarova & Bowes, 2021; Wang et al., 2021). Previous literature adapted range of theories to examine the influencer marketing which include source credibility, match up theory, self-presentation, S-O-R, users and gratifications framework and many others (Djafarova & Trofimenko, 2019; Djafarova & Rushworth, 2017). Further development of theoretical knowledge is necessary to determine the effective ways of persuasion in communication by digital influencers.

This study will respond to call for further research into persuasiveness of influencer marketing and message strategies (Ye et al., 2021; Vrontis et al., 2020). This research findings will have implications for both academics and marketers. This study will provide new insights into understanding how to make the communication by digital influencers most effective when targeting Generation Z users.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Principal Supervisor – Dr Elmira Djafarova

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Djafarova, E. & Bowes, T. (2021). Instagram made me buy it: Generation Z Impulse purchases in fashion industry. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 24th October.
Djafarova, E. & Snowball, C. (forthcoming). The Impact of Social Media Content on Tourist Destination Image. Marketing Review.
Djafarova, E. (2021) ‘Online Celebrities and Cyber Marketing’ in Cambridge Handbook of Cyber Behavior – Decision & Feedback, edited by Zheng, Y. Cambridge University Press.
Djafarova, E. & Matson, N. (2020). Credibility of digital influencers on YouTube and Instagram. International Journal of Internet Marketing and Advertising. Inderscience.
Djafarova, E. & Deluce, B. (2018). Exploring User-Generated Images in Online Reviews of Hotels. Tourism Analysis, 23(3), 323-335.
Djafarova, E. & Trofimenko, O. (2019). ‘Instafamous’ – credibility and self-presentation of micro-celebrities in social media. Journal of Information, Communication and Society, 22, 1432-1446.
Djafarova, E. & Trofimenko, O. (2017). Exploring the relationships between self-presentation and self-esteem of mothers in social in Russia. Computers in Human Behavior, 73, 20-27.
Djafarova, E. & Rushworth, C. (2017). Exploring the credibility of online celebrities' Instagram profiles in influencing the purchase decisions of young female users. Computers in Human Behavior, 68, 1-7.
Djafarova, E. (2016). Why do advertisers use visual metaphors? A pragmatic perspective. The Marketing Review, 16 (2), 203-214.
Ghaffari, M., Rodrigo, P., Ekinci, Y., & Pino, G. (2021). Consumers’ motivations for adopting a vegan diet: A mixed‐methods approach. International Journal of Consumer Studies 1-16.
Hang, H., Rodrigo, P., & Ghaffari, M. (2021). Corporate social responsibility in the luxury sector: The role of moral foundations. Psychology & Marketing, 1-16.
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