Celebrity endorsements less effective for many products

This is because keeping up with the Jones’s rather than with famous people is the main motivation behind many people’s choice of which product to buy.

Researchers at the University of Bath, UK, and University of St Gallen, Switzerland, showed 298 undergraduates a magazine advertisement for a digital camera which included an endorsement by a fictional student who said the camera was “hot” and his “preferred choice”. Other students were shown the same advert, this time endorsed by an invented testimonial from a German celebrity.

The students were also assessed on how important it was for them that the products they buy made a good impression on others.

When questioned later, the students said that both types of testimonial were beneficial, but those students who said they bought products to impress others were much more likely to be influenced by the student testimonial and less by the celebrity. This applied equally to men as to women.

Professor Brett Martin, of the University of Bath’s School of Management, said that though the research was carried out in Germany, it was applicable generally.

“Our research questions whether celebrities are the best way to sell products. Celebrities can be effective but we found that many people were more convinced by an endorsement from a fictional fellow student.

“This is because many people feel a need to keep up with the Jones’s when they buy.

“They like to make sure their product is fashionable and trendy among people who resemble them, rather than approved by celebrities like David Beckham, Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johansson. So they are more influenced by an endorsement from an ordinary person like them.

“This could mean that millions spent by the advertising industry on getting top actors and top quality sport stars like Sachin Tendulkar to give their names to products is unnecessary.

“Of course there are key tools to calibrate the match between a celebrity and a product and when these tools are used, it can work very well. But in terms of this research, if people are influenced by peer pressure then it’s the people who offer the social approval who count. We also found that men were as equally swayed by the desire to look good in front of their friends as women.”

The camera advertisement also included technical details of the camera, and another finding of the research was that those who were not interested in what their peers thought of them were influenced only by the technical details of the adverts, and not the endorsements.

“What is also important in our study is that people who aren’t bothered about having the trendiest goods pay more attention to the technical details of a product and ignore endorsements by anyone, celebrity or not, and advertisers should bear that in mind too,” said Professor Martin.

Professor Martin, who is part of the School of Management’s Marketing Group, said that some products like high-tech gadgetry could be advertised using testimonials from a typical member of the target market. Other products which were merely useful and tended to be used at home, like garden tools, could be advertised more successfully by just giving their technical specifications.

In the survey, 56 per cent per cent of those who admitted to buying products that would impress others said they were influenced by the testimonial from the student. Only 20 per cent said they were influenced by the celebrity testimonial. Only 5 per cent of those who did not buy to impress paid attention to the testimonial from the student.

Those who bought to impress others were only 49 per cent influenced by the technical details of the camera, whereas 78 per cent of those who did not buy to impress were influenced by the technical details of the camera.

Professor Martin’s collaborators were Daniel Wentzel and Professor Torsten Tomczak from St Gallen.

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