Do celebrity endorsements really work?
Updated: May 2
By Hannah Cook
In today’s society, social media is the best way for marketers to reach their audience. In fact 97% of them are doing so.
Love it or hate it, it is the most vital place for marketers and even consumers.
There are many different ways marketers can use social media. Not only does it build a company’s brand, but it helps engage future consumers that lead to increased sales.
Social media marketing does a lot more than just promote a product. Advertising takes time and work. The process behind it includes, creating content, promoting the content, engaging with people, and growing a following.
One special way of advertising is using endorsements. The Indeed Editorial Team writes that endorsements are an effective way to enhance an advertising campaign and increase a company’s presence in the public.
The Economic Times defines an endorsement as “a form of advertising that uses famous personalities or celebrities who command a high degree of recognition, trust, respect or awareness amongst the people.”
There are eight different kinds of endorsers in advertising - celebrities, influencers, athletes, trade organizations, product users, professional associations, safety boards, and nongovernment organizations.
In a study conducted in 2019, the United States had 14% to 19% of advertisements featuring celebrities endorsing products and brands.
Celebrities attract new customers and are a big face in advertising campaigns. Consumers will buy a product just because they see a famous face aligned with the product and/or brand.
Whitney Eichinger, vice president of culture and engagement with Southwest Airlines, admits it can work on her.
“I am a sucker when Jennifer Lopez does some ads for the apple cider gummies, and I’m like ‘oh I should probably get those’ cause I like J. Lo and she uses them so they have to work,” she says.
The more famous the celebrity, the more reach of that brand and/or product they are endorsing.
Our brain is programmed that when we see a familiar face promoting a product, it makes it seem as if the product itself is familiar.
Companies spend billions and billions of dollars throughout the year to have celebrities endorse their products. When it comes to a return on investment while using celebrities for endorsements, businesses have seen “an increase of 4% in stock price and sales after they announce signing a celebrity endorser.”
Difference between celebrities and influencers
While celebrity endorsements are always popular, the fast evolving marketing trend now is influencer marketing. An influencer is “someone who has established credibility in a specific industry, has access to a huge audience and can persuade others to act based on their recommendations.”
As social media gets more and more intricate, it is hard to determine the difference between an influencer and a celebrity. Each of these individuals have a strong social media presence and following.
Sila Eskioglu writes for Inflow Network that “celebrities gain fame through traditional media channels.” While “influencers on the other hand gain their audience through new media, aka social media platforms.”
There are many things that influencers do that celebrities do not. Celebrities are not involved in the planning process of marketing advertisements like influencers are.
Caroline Knight, a 20 year-old micro-influencer in Charleston, South Carolina, shares the process of collaborating, "brands usually start off by saying they would love to collaborate in exchange for… usually is it feed posts on my Instagram page, a 60 second TikTok or just sharing the product on my story."
Influencers have no limit on what brands and products they get to work with. There are a lot of rules and contracts that each individual has to follow and sign.
While celebrity endorsements have been around since the early 1920s, the times are changing. Brands are starting to realize that they can still get their products the brand recognition they need and want for less money by using influencers.
Celebrities have the ability to draw one's attention with their face and help align themselves with a brand to win consumers over, but they are not experts in the products and brands they are promoting.
Influencers are raw and lively people and while they are promoting a product, we also get to see their personal life and see raw emotions. The actions that influencers make on social media is what creates a relationship with consumers and it builds trust.
Collective Bias ran a study and found that only 3% of consumers would consider buying a celebrity endorsed-product, while 30% would buy a product endorsed by a non-celebrity influencer.
“Influencers are more genuine, especially micro-influencers,” Knight says, “they give their honest opinion about a product whereas celebrities are just doing it because of the huge contract and payment they are getting in return.”
Outside of celebrities and influencers, some companies like to put their own employees as their main source of advertising, Eichinger shares that "whats powerful for us is for employees to be our main source of advertisement."
"It depends on what your industry is" states Eichinger, when choosing spokespeople, it is all based on the kind of company you are and what foot you want to put forward.
Sometimes companies will partner with a whole community opposed to one singular figure. This holds the whole community and/or persona accountable. SouthWest does not partner with a celebrity, "we align with MLB but we align with the team not a singular player" Eichinger shares.
Endorsements gone wrong
Celebrity endorsements can end very poorly, like some of these involving such superstars as O.J. Simpson, LeBron James and Oscar Pistorius.
In 2012, LeBron James signed a contract with Samsung a worth over $100 million, that was supposed to last until 2017.
LeBron James decided to share with the whole world in 2014 about his Samsung phone having a problem, which led him to Tweet, “My phone just erased everything it had in it and rebooted. One of the sickest feelings I’ve ever had in my life!!!”
OJ Simpson had a long term brand deal with Hertz, signing a contract worth $600,000 in 1975. His fame was so big that it proved immediate success with Hertz, increasing its brand recall by 40% and its net profit by 50% in the first year. He was the face of the brand for almost 20 years until he was arrested and charged for the murder of his wife.
Nike is a very recognizable company, when everyone sees the logo they know the saying “Just Do It”. In 2014 the company started to sponsor the amputee sprinter, Oscar Pistorius but latter suspended his contract due to being found guilty of murder.
In all of these situations, the celebrity’s actions created a dilemma for the company - did it want a shamed star to be a spokesperson?
A very recent situation occurred between NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers and one of his primary endorsements - a healthcare company.
Rodgers had refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine as mandated by the NFL but ultimately got in trouble when it came to light that he hadn’t followed the proper protocols required of players who chose not to get vaccinated, such as wearing a mask at all press conferences, in the locker room, etc.
Rodgers further exacerbated the issue when he acknowledged that he had hedged the information when directly asked about getting the vaccine by reporters.
This didn’t sit well with the NFL or with some of his teammates and it caused a public uproar. But the real trouble came when Rodgers got defensive about his decision not to get vaccinated and began sprouting vaccine conspiracy theories.
As the controversy was developing, Prevea Health decided to terminate its advertising partnership with Rodgers due to the comments not aligning with their own company values. The healthcare organization told CNN Business in a statement that it “remains deeply committed to protecting its patients, staff, providers, and communities amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Still, one of Rodgers’ biggest partners - State Farm - did nothing, and several others remained silent.
James Pokrywcynski, an associate professor of strategic communications, told the Green Bay Press-Gazette at the time that this was likely a strategic response.
“I think what their strategy is, they are going to bury his appearances deep in the vault and see how this thing plays out for a month or so,” he said.
Public forgives, forgets easily
A brand’s image is the key driver to a consumer’s general perception and feeling about the brand, which can highly influence consumer behavior.
When a brand’s image is tarnished because of a celebrity’s misdeeds, the fallout depends a lot on how “it went wrong,” says Berger.
Berger shares how she would tackle a tarnished brand image, "if the celebrity or influencer spoke about a specific aspect of the brand in a negative light, I would combat that with a hard PR and social media push speaking to that specific aspect in a positive light."
The public appreciates the courage brands and even celebrities take when they admit when they have gone wrong. Public apologies can be challenging, but can help brands image when they own up to their mistakes.
Rodgers never fully owned up to his actions. When he appeared on the Pat McAfee show, he stated “before my final nail gets put in my cancel culture casket, I think I would like to set the record straight on so many of the blatant lies that are out there about myself.”
While celebrities are not perfect and mistakes are bound to happen - companies still do not want to get caught in the public crossfire.
Fortunately, with today’s news cycle, most faux pas are quickly forgotten.
Charlotte Berger, founder of Charlotte Berger PR could not recall any celebrity endorsements ending poorly, while Eichinger did.
Eichinger brought up the situation with Kanye West at the Grammy's a few years ago.“I am not sure if this really is considered an 'endorsement,' but Kayne getting pulled out of the Grammys and the Grammys not wanting to associate their brand with Kayne anymore, that is really interesting," she said.
Celebrities and cancel culture
Cancel culture has definitely become a tool consumers, advocates and public influencers have used to “cancel” individuals or companies from utilizing their prominent public – in other words, culturally blocked from having a prominent public platform or career.
Recently this year the "Mr. Big" from Sex and the City is not only dead to Carrie Bradshaw but to society as well. After the release of And Just Like That, several women came out and accused Chris Noth for sexual assault allegations. The actor was pulled from Pelotons ad campaign, dropped from the film The Equalizer and canceled by many.
Not only can an individual such as a celebrity be “canceled” but so can brands and big organizations.
Oatly, a beloved plant based alternative that is used by many was discovered to be partnering with Blackstone. Blackstone is an investment company who owned shares of companies that are responsible for the Amazon Rainforest deforestation. When this got out to the public, they were quick to boycott and essentially cancel the brand.
A risk that any company can run is for their celebrity to get "canceled" by the public, which can result in their reputation being canceled as well.