The Scepticism around Celebrity Endorsement

Definition of celebrity endorsement: A form of brand or advertising campaign that involves a well-known individual using their fame to help promote a product or service.

This form of influencer marketing has certainly had its day in the sun over the years, with well-known personalities endorsing anything from cleaning products to high-end fashion ranges. The emotional connection that an audience can have with a brand due to the right celebrity being connected to it has been evident for many years. Michael Jordan’s association with Nike, for example, brought the brand astronomical success which has continued to this day even though he has long retired.

The beauty industry has a long and successful history of using famous people to push various products and brands to the consumer. The success of these kinds of endorsements has worked for many reasons, but ultimately the target audience buys into a promise that in purchasing a product or using a service, they are in some way closer to reaching the status of the icons that are involved in the promotion. If the celebrity thinks the product is great, then they should try it too. The desire to be like the celebrity helps influence the sale.

But is the landscape changing? The rise of digital communications between the customer and brands and more notably between customer to customer is now one of the key points of research that is undertaken by the consumer before making a purchase. This shift has given people the option to find more authentic opinions from various social media platforms and online reviews. A survey showed that 86% of 1,470 women put their trust in real peoples’ product and service recommendations before deciding to buy a product or use a service. Samantha Skey, CMO of SheKnows Media was quoted as saying about the consumer, “Today they are turning to what we refer to as ‘everyday experts’ on YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram.” Word of mouth has always been one of the most important pieces of advertising and what can make or break a product or brand. Welcome to the digital age and the word of mouth upgrade.

A consequence of this ever-changing environment and communication options is that the customer has become savvier and simply putting a famous face to a brand is not enough to convince. The focus on body image and perfection has been highlighted with various media exposing the rich and famous in less flattering images in everyday life without the aid of personal trainers, makeup artists, personal stylists and soft lighting. The recent YouTube video showing the normal looking girl lying in front of the camera was a particular eye-opener. The time-lapse video showed countless people coming in and out fixing her hair and makeup to reveal a completely different looking person. Gone was the everyday girl you would walk past on the street to be replaced by a striking model who wouldn’t be out of place on an advert. But wait… even with all the stylists, even with all the makeup artists, it was deemed not enough to convince a target audience. Enter photoshop. A little brush up here, a little neck thinning there and hey presto, billboard and advert ready.

Is this exposing of the truth behind advert creation having a direct impact on people looking at the celebrity endorsements and becoming disillusioned? Putting cream on your face to achieve flawless skin or wearing a designer dress isn’t going to make you like the protagonist on the screen or billboard because ultimately it isn’t an achievable target, it just isn’t real. Is the knowledge that celebrities involved in these promotions are doing it for the pay cheque, rather than in their belief that the products are any good, and people are now turning to more impartial and genuine sources to decide whether a product is going to work for them? And if this is the case, where does that leave celebrity endorsement and the direction that brands must take to counteract the growing trend amongst the masses?

The objectives are the same, but the environment isn’t, so in a world where impartial critique is readily available is it a case that if you can’t beat them then join them? The marketing campaigns in whatever medium should have the same level of transparency and honesty as the conversations that the target audience would have. This approach would not only go a long way to grabbing the attention of the consumer, but also establish a relationship of trust that is not based on a celebrity endorsement littered with false truths.

If this approach was to be undertaken, what role would the marketing agencies have in implementing it? For the brand, the exclusion of a celebrity would certainly help financially, freeing up resources for their marketing campaign that an agency could create. A focus on key areas including social media, audience interaction and feedback, clever and interesting branding and the use of real protagonists that a customer can directly relate to, is certainly a longer game and bigger picture approach. The brand Dove recently took this direction by using a real woman with different looks and sizes to promote their product and was applauded for breaking away from the norm.

The use of celebrities has certainly brought more scepticism over time, but it is not to say that there is no future in its use. The approach would have to alter, and a balance would have to be established that would re-establish a connection with an audience. An explicit relationship between a brand and celebrity would bring a sense of authenticity that the motivation of the endorser is down to a belief in the product and not the financial gains they receive.

Their use in bringing attention to charities is a great example of this. The increased attention and reach that a celebrity can bring to a worthy cause highlights when the motivation and drive are not to sell, but because they believe in what they are promoting. “The public are more likely to support organisations whose celebrity endorsers demonstrated a sincere commitment and were knowledgeable about the causes they supported, therefore, strengthening their credibility” Samman et al. (2009). If this transparency, commitment and balance can be implemented across the board in a marketing campaign, then despite growing scepticism, celebrity endorsement will have its place.