Businesses shelling out big endorsement bucks to the likes of Kim Kardashian, Justin Bieber and other celebrities may not be getting the return on their investment that they’d hoped for, according to new research.
A University of Colorado Boulder study found that celebrity endorsements, which are widely used to increase brand visibility and connect brands with celebrities’ personality traits, do not always work in the positive manner that marketers envision.
Research leader Margaret C. Campbell of CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business said, negative celebrity associations consistently transferred to an endorsed brand in three separate studies.
“The overall message to marketers is be careful, because all of us, celebrities or not, have positives and negatives to our personalities, and those negatives can easily transfer to a brand,” Campbell said.
As part of the research, the study’s participants were asked to read several celebrity news stories, including one piece about pop singer and reality TV personality Jessica Simpson and a brand she was endorsing.
After an earlier test revealed that consumers had both positive and negative associations with the star, the participants were asked to evaluate a variety of products, including the brand Simpson endorsed.
The researchers found participants were likely to think of the brand as ditzy and weak but also sexy and fun.
“However, when the endorsed product wasn’t a good match with the celebrity, in this case Jessica Simpson endorsing a pocketknife, the celebrity’s positive associations of sexy and fun did not transfer to the brand, while her negative associations did,” said co-author Caleb Warren of the Universita Commerciale Luigi Bocconi in Milan.
The reality that an endorsed brand is likely to take on the same negative traits as the celebrity means marketers need to consider all facets — good or bad — of any potential endorser, according to Campbell.
“Marketers often focus on the traits that they want without also considering whether the celebrity has traits that they do not want to be associated with their brands,” Campbell said.
Additionally, marketers should reconsider their celebrity ties should their star pitchman become embroiled in a scandal, according to the study.
“The global company Accenture, for example, chose to sever endorsement ties with Tiger Woods shortly after his extramarital affairs came to light,” Campbell said. “This new research indicates this helped lower the risk of gaining associations with disloyalty and lack of commitment rather than high performance.”
The study appears in the current issue of the journal Social Influence.
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