Brands need to accept that Celebrity Advertising is broken

Growing research into celebrity advertising has increasingly found no evidence of increase in attention or positive shift in attitude towards a brand because of a celebrity. Will brands finally accept

Concept of Celebrities in Advertisements

What are the basic elements of an ad?

Any ad that features a brand weaving a simple story, in an effort to drive sales for that brand. Simple enough?

Marketers, however, introduce a second brand into the fray as a design element, in an effort to enhance its effectiveness. This is known as dual- or co-branding. Plethora of advertisements created around us are co-branded. Co-branded advertisements typically have a primary brand, which usually pays for the advertising, and a secondary brand, which is a design element in advertisement.

These secondary brands can exist in various forms and shapes. They can be the corporate owner of a brand (e.g. Dove and Unilever, Vistara and Tata), a competitor entity (Intel and Apple), or a Partner, which is placing another brand that desires a different outcome than the primary brand from advertising, for example a charity or celebrity.

Today, celebrity advertising is one of the most popular advertising strategies across the world, with at least 20% of all advertisements having some semblance of celebrity association. However, very little is actually known about its effectiveness and whether the presence of this design element enhances or detracts from advertising effectiveness.

Why do brands rope in celebrities?

2 broad insights are able to justify the lean of some marketers towards roping celebrities in their advertisements:

  1. Amplify attention towards the brand
  2. Increase customers’ positive attitude towards the advertisement and brand

Attention is what every marketer craves for their brand (and sometimes themselves). Inclusion of celebrities is perceived to be a definitive way to attract viewers’ attention to the advertisement in a cluttered advertising environment. Upon sustained amplification, they may also act as distinctive brand assets that serve as signals to the brand.

Attitude or image transfer is another perceived benefit marketers hope to achieve. Brands use celebrities in the hope that admired characteristics of the celebrities are transferred to the brand through advertising. There is also the belief that celebrities can aid brands to build an emotional connection with consumers in much the same way as consumers build emotional connections with celebrities themselves.

Existing research is also to blame for this notion. There has been extensive research done in the field of celebrity advertising, however, most explore the celebrity selection models which have a common underlying assumption that celebrity advertisement works.

Metrics for advertisement effectiveness

  • Advertising recall
  • Advertising likeability
  • Correct branding

Issues with Celebrity Advertising

Despite the cost, as celebrities can be very expensive, prior research has provided mixed results regarding celebrity contribution to effective advertising. The prices of roping in celebrities have skyrocketed and are astronomical these days.

There is also a danger of conflicting objectives, in that, a celebrity that is a powerful enough creative device to lift the cut through of the advertising may distract rather than build attention to the brand. Therefore, an advertisement gains on one dimension of advertising effectiveness but loses on another. This effect is highly unique to celebrities as other creative elements such as a jingle are more likely to assist the brand being remembered rather than taking attention from the brand.

What Research is saying

Recent research conducted in multiple countries has also shown that celebrities cannot be used as silver bullets to guarantee effective advertising. The research also found no support for the hypothesis that celebrity advertisements systematically outperform non-celebrity advertisements on any of the three advertising effectiveness measures I have listed above.

Category-level analysis of the research has shown that advertisements with celebrities both outperform and underperform against advertisements without.

Type of celebrity also plays an important role. Further analysis with a classification of celebrity professions shows the superiority of athlete celebrities against non-celebrity advertisements in advertisement likeability. There are extraneous factors which impact on advertising effectiveness when celebrities are involved. However, testing of some possible extraneous factors did not reveal anything significant.

What to do?

With no evidence of celebrity advertisements being systematically more successful in terms of advertisement recall, advertisement likeability and correct branding than advertising without celebrities, should brands just drop all celebrity-led advertising? Not exactly.

A trend has been identified for advertisement likeability, whereby celebrity advertisements with athletes tend to generate higher advertisement likeability scores than those with entertainers. What has been made clear is that the mere presence of a celebrity will not magically bring attention to a brand or create a positive association with it. A clear marketing strategy that deploys celebrities effectively as distinctive brand assets will increase the recall of the brand, bring it front and centre of the consumers and generate consideration of the brand.


Tanaka, A., Nguyen, C. and Romaniuk, J. (2015), ‘The Strengths and Weaknesses of Celebrities as Branding and Creative Design Elements in Advertising’, Journal of Design, Business & Society 1: 1, pp. 57–75



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