Celebrity endorsements: do they work?

Last Thursday's episode of Media7 was really interesting - well, every episode of Media7 is interesting, but the most recent episode was even more interesting than usual: host Russell Brown spent the latter half of the show interviewing former Fair Go hosts Kevin Milne and Brian Edwards on the topic of celebrity endorsements and advertising, or more precisely, what companies are really buying when they buy a celebrity face for their promotions.

The discussion came in the wake of a new advertising campaign featuring Milne (NZ's second-most trusted person in 2010) fronting a series of commercials and YouTube clips for Carpet Mill, a carpet manufacturer based in Hamilton.

As it turns out, Edwards probably wouldn't have advised Milne to do the commercial - and, given that his company teaches people how to interact with the media and manage their public persona, he would be someone worth listening to. You see, he has this idea called Brian's Law Of Celebrity Endorsement, which he explains like this:

Brian's Law of Celebrity Endorsement means that the less you have to lose in terms of reputation, the less you will lose. While we may like people in the entertainment industry, for example, we tend not to hold them in particularly high regard. So "celebrities" can get away with endorsing products without our thinking any, or at least much less of them.

This means that someone like Kim Kardashian can promote all the shoes she wants* - because we really don't think much of her to start with, our opinion of the products she endorses (or our opinion of product endorsements) won't have a negative effect on her.

Conversely, the much-loved, eagerly trusted consumer advocate Milne is a person who we hold in much higher regard, so he has a lot more reputation to tarnish. But that isn't what I want to discuss here; if that's a discussion you're interested in, I highly recommend Russell Brown's blog post on the subject.**

The part that interested me in all of this was to do with that last part I've quoted from Brian's Law Of Celebrity Endorsement: "we tend not to hold them in particularly high regard. So "celebrities" can get away with endorsing products without our thinking any, or at least much less of them. The question has to be asked, then: as consumers, do we really take any notice of celebrity endorsements? Is a celebrity going to swing us toward a particular product?

The answer appears to be yes, at least in the case of zeitgeist personalities such as Kim Kardashian - those arbiters of "cool", the trendsetters who seem to dictate the very direction of popular culture. Even though the thought that any Kardashian might influence society, it's undoubtedly true. If you want your product to sell big, it can be as simple as getting a Kardashian to wear it, or at least tell people they wore it.

But is it really that simple? Take the new Hugo Boss advertising campaign, featuring talented actor/mediocre band frontman Jared Leto - if you're not already a regular consumer of Hugo Boss products, is this commercial really going to make you change your purchasing habits? I can't imagine so.

In fact, CNBC reported last year that a study by analytics company Ace Metrix had shown that "celebrity ads do not perform any better than non-celebrity ads, and in some cases they perform much worse".

Another study, this one published in the Journal of Advertising Research, showed that celebrity endorsements only improve sales by about 0.25 per cent, while endorsements from athletes can precipitate a sales jump of about 4 per cent - a number which is highly dependent on their performance (for example, sales might jump for Roger Federer-endorsed products if Federer wins a grand slam).

Of course, there are plenty of exceptions and caveats to consider: for example, if the celebrity is bigger than the brand they're endorsing, would it work then? Or to put it another way, Milne might help the bottom line of Carpet Mill, but would The Warehouse notice more profits if he fronted their commercials? The evidence would seem to indicate not.

But the question I want to ask today is much simpler: Do you think celebrity endorsements help you make purchasing decisions? Are you more likely to switch to a brand if you know the face of their ad campaigns? And generally speaking, what do you think of celebrity endorsements? Post your thoughts below.

(*) It's been reported that Kardashian makes US $10,000 for a 140-character endorsement on Twitter.

(**) To be honest, I highly recommend Russell Brown's blog, period.

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