May 27, 2007
Understanding Celebrity Endorsements and Meaning Transfer

Perusing through April's edition of The Journal of Popular Culture, I found a particularly interesting piece by UT-Austin Assistant Professor of Advertising Sejung Marina Choi and Michigan State University advertising professor Nora J. Rifton focusing on the celebrity in American television advertising.

Their work is based on the definition of the celebrity spokesperson set forth in C3 Affiliated Faculty Grant McCracken's 1989 Journal of Consumer Research piece "Who Is the Celebrity Endorser? Cultural Foundations of the Endorsement Process," in which he he writes that a celebrity spokesperson is "any individual who enjoys public recognition and who uses this recognition on behalf of a consumer good by appearing with it in an advertisement" (p. 310).

This essay's premise is that, while work has already done on the effectiveness of these celebrity endorsements, there are still questions about "what constitutes those images and how the deconstructed elements influence advertising effects (p. 305). By focusing on Grant's work about how meaning can transfer from the celebrity to the product in the endorsement process, the study's raison d'etre is to create a quantifiable scale to measure the image of the celebrity and to understand how the image affects credibility.

I'm a little dubious about these definitive statements of creating a definite rubric that demonstrates how a process works, but I realize as well that we are a culture of models that need these sorts of metrics in order to make sense of the world. The categories created for the scale were competence, excitement, sociability, and genuineness. There are pages of tables with a lot of numbers, rounded to thousandths...but what interests me is the final discussion and an attempt to try and come to some understanding of what this means.

The authors write:

Just as marketers strive to create and enhance brand images that can resonate with their target markets, celebrities manage and market their images in hopes that the images are viewed as appealing and ideal to the audiences. [ . . . ] Celebrity endorsement should be an effective way of forming and altering brand images due to the established understanding of a popular celebrity's images among consumers through their exposure to repeated and widespread appearances of the celebrity in mass media (318).

Again, I'm not sure how I feel about the process of trying to quantify such things, but I think the question of celebrity endorsement is especially interesting in an era where one isn't sure who is or isn't a celebrity and where the Internet creates an environment where many may be famous within a specific community. As grassroots marketers themselves may be famous within a fan community (see my previous piece on fans of fans, for instance), these questions are quite intriguing, especially in trying to understand how the reputation and standing of an endorser affects the message.



You're quite right about the volume of celebrities in this age. A thought struck me while reading this � the Long Tail is probably a key reason to this number. With its proliferation, the number of niche celebrities grows immensely and even though the reason why they're popular isn't known, it might not be important. Communication today ensures that these people will be well known even if the reason why isn't clear.


Aayush, I think you are quite right regarding the Long Tail and how it plays into the volume of celebrities. The blogosphere and the proliferation of new publishing tools is one, and another is that a person's 15 minutes of fame can remain current in a way it never had before as content becomes available on a continued basis.