Person Marketing: Using Celebrities to Endorse Products
This paper will take a closer look at the practice of celebrity endorsements and their marketing value. The use of celebrities to generate greater attention for a given product or service is multifaceted in both the manner in which these endorsements are obtained and the returns for the business they promise. By delving into greater detail about such policies, as well as highlighting the potential returns (both positive and negative), the reader will glean a more complete understanding of one of the most important aspects of marketing a burgeoning product in the twenty-first-century international economy.
Keywords: Brand Ambassador; Match-Up Hypothesis; Product Match-up; Product Placement; Source Attractiveness; Source Credibility
Throughout the history of commerce, entrepreneurs have consistently sought endorsements of their products and services by high-profile members of society. For example, if a sixteenth-century clothing designer's wares were seen worn by a king or queen, it would follow that sales of that product increased dramatically. Using celebrities to help market products has long been seen as an important catalyst to increased sales and profitability.
This paper will take a closer look at the practice of celebrity endorsements and its marketing value. By delving into greater detail about such policies, as well as highlighting the potential returns (both positive and negative), the reader will glean a more complete understanding of one of the most important aspects of marketing a burgeoning product in the twenty-first-century international economy.
If It's Good Enough for Them . . .
A celebrity is not just someone who has risen to the top of his or her field. Of course, he or she may be an expert on a given subject, and therefore, someone whose opinions on the value of a certain product or service matter to the ordinary consumer. Then again, celebrities are also attention-getters, people who live in the spotlight — on the movie screen, in the ballpark, or on the Internet — and have a following among the general public.
Celebrity endorsements speak to that spotlight. For example, by having NBA superstar LeBron James, professional golfer Tiger Woods, and other high-profile athletes affix their names and likenesses to their apparel, Nike creates a perceived link between the extraordinary accomplishments of these individuals and their products; this connection can lead to considerably higher sales and profit generation (Grede, 2008). The appearance of movie stars or the use of popular songs in television and radio commercials can create similar connections among consumers.
In 1934, a Kellogg's cereal brand unveiled its newest box, complete with the photo of New York Yankees star Lou Gehrig. For more than seven decades after that iconic moment, Wheaties boxes connected great athletes with consuming the product, claiming, "What's on the box shows that Wheaties fuels champions. What's in the box proves it" (Wheaties.com).
The use of professional and high-profile amateur athletes (such as Olympians) has become commonplace among business marketing endeavors. With the Wheaties perspective in their minds, countless retailers, beverage producers, restaurants, and candy manufacturers have long sought to affix the faces of high-profile sports athletes to their products and services. Many of these athletes are considered to be in the highest echelon of the sport they represent. NBA superstar LeBron James (who was drafted out of high school rather than college) signed a seven-year, $90-million contract with sports retailer Nike right after he signed a contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. As part of that relationship, his name was on no fewer than 10 shoe styles, including six "LeBron James" signature models. Additionally, he signed deals with bubble gum maker Bubblicious, sports card maker Upper Deck, and beverage giant Coca-Cola, among others (Horrow & Swatek, 2009). By 2013, even after a controversial, yet highly successful transfer to the Miami Heat, James's endorsement income alone amounted to $40 million (Van Riper, 2013).
The use of athletes in marketing products is not simply lucrative for the athlete. The fact that professional golfer Tiger Woods, one of the most recognizable faces in sports, is also one of the most marketed names in the world is not a coincidence. Consistently the biggest draw at PGA events, Woods also draws high television ratings — a drop in viewership in 2008 and early 2009 could be directly connected to the fact that he was absent with an injury.
Products that bear Woods's name and/or endorsement also sell in high volume. Before 1996, Nike did not even have a golf line to sell. However, when Woods burst onto the scene shortly thereafter, consumer demand for products with his name created a surge in golf apparel, equipment, and other product sales. By 2007, Woods had helped build for Nike a lucrative franchise, Nike Golf, which sold well over $600 million for the company that year (Baker, 2008).
Sports marketing and endorsements are not limited to the most famous athletes, either. In fact, countless athletes have endorsed products and services. Many of them do so at the local level, appearing in advertisements for automobile dealerships, local restaurants, and other items of regional interest. Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden may not be as internationally recognized as Tiger Woods, but his notoriety in greater Baltimore led to his appearances in a local insurance company's advertisements. Boston Red Sox star closer Jonathan Papelbon also holds a strong fan base in New England and, as such, appeared in a number of television and radio spots by a regional auto dealership (Fitch, 2009).
To understand how businesses look to sports figures to help sell their wares, one may look at three theoretical frameworks: source credibility, source attractiveness, and product match-up (Peterson, 2009). The first of these theories, source credibility, looks at how the athlete in question is viewed in terms of his or her knowledge of the product. Tiger Woods, for example, is exceptionally talented at using golf clubs, and his endorsement of Nike's golf line, therefore, is given great credibility.
The second theory, source attractiveness, suggests that consumers will purchase products and services that are endorsed by athletes that have a positive public persona. Athletes such as New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter, former Chicago Bulls player Michael Jordan, and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning all are known by fans and the general public to be friendly with fans, noncontroversial, and inspirational to those around them. Such reputations give an air of trustworthiness to these figures, and as a result, consumers are more likely to consider purchasing a product they endorse.
Finally, product match-up involves congruence between the endorser and the product. This area has proven more difficult to frame for marketing experts as well as psychologists, in light of the myriad factors that play a role in the relationship between the athlete and the products being marketed. In general contexts, however, product match-up looks at two relationships: the logical connection between the endorser and the product (such as Tiger Woods and the Nike golf club line), and what is known as "match-up hypothesis" (Kahle & Riley, 2004). The latter term alludes to a perceived connection between the endorser and the product that creates an impression with the consumer that the product is all the more beneficial because of the athlete's endorsement.
Of course, professional athletes are but one form of celebrity that is called upon to help sell a product or service. Entertainers, movie stars, musicians, and other celebrities are also considered invaluable endorsers.
The Star Treatment
In the 1930s and 1940s, there was a common activity among Hollywood's A-list of actors. Icons such as Clark Gable, Bette Davis, and John Wayne were all featured in advertisements endorsing tobacco products. In fact, many studios scheduled such publicity with the release of the endorsers' films ("Tobacco Companies," 2008). This practice has persisted in other industries on a more widespread basis in the decades that followed.
The entertainment industry has long been seen as a gold mine for businesses looking to give star power to their products. Such endorsements provide the company and its products with a higher degree of...
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