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When Exclusivity Is Crucial for Celebrity Endorsements

A lot depends on whether ads are fleeting or subject to scrutiny.

Title: Multiple Endorsers and Multiple Endorsements: The Influence of Message Repetition, Source Congruence and Involvement on Brand Attitudes (fee or subscription required)

Authors: Dan Hamilton Rice (Louisiana State University), Katie Kelting (University of Arkansas), and Richard J. Lutz (University of Florida)

Publisher: Journal of Consumer Psychology, vol. 22, no. 2

Date Published: April 2012

Celebrities are often the centerpieces of advertising campaigns because their endorsements have powerful and persuasive effects on consumers. In fact, many companies employ multiple endorsers to connect with a wide range of customers and potential customers. And many top celebrities, for their part, earn significant amounts of money endorsing numerous brands.

At one point, for example, Rolex used 24 golfers, seven tennis pros, four equestrians, three yachtsmen, two race car drivers, a skier, and a polo player to advertise its watches. And in 2009 alone, NFL star Peyton Manning endorsed eight brands.

But little research has been done on how the impact of endorsements of a single brand by multiple celebrities is affected by the number and type of other endorsements those same celebrities make. This study identifies when expensive exclusivity clauses are needed to keep celebrities tied to a specific brand and when they are less essential. This information can help companies increase their campaigns’ effectiveness while reducing spending.

The authors found that when consumers have little time to focus on ads, such as when the ads appear on passing buses or billboards, their attitude toward a given brand becomes more favorable as the number of celebrity endorsers increases, even if a celebrity’s fit with the product isn’t strong. Their attitude becomes negative, however, if the celebrities are also endorsing many other products, presumably because the endorser’s overexposure is at odds with a persuasive argument about one particular brand. In this context, it pays to use exclusivity clauses.

But when consumers have more time to take in an ad — when reading a magazine, for instance — the fit between the celebrity and the brand is paramount. In that setting, the positive effect from having multiple endorsers kicks in only if the fit is uniformly strong. And it’s not a big problem if the celebrities endorse other brands, so long as the fit is good for those as well. In this context, exclusivity might not be necessary.

“This research provides empirical support for the managerial practices of paying more for an exclusive endorser and trying to find an endorser who fits well with the brand’s positioning,” the authors write. “However, to the extent that brand managers can determine the likely level of audience involvement, they might be able to economize.”

In the first of two experiments, the researchers selected product types and fictitious brand names that could lend themselves to both rugged and sophisticated imagery: Castolano watches, Adesta briefcases, and Murati SUVs. Two contrasting celebrities were also chosen: Pierce Brosnan (representing sophistication) and Vin Diesel (representing ruggedness). The celebrities were put into separate pairs of print ads for each brand that emphasized either sophistication or ruggedness, creating high- and low-congruence versions of fit.

A total of 388 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to evaluate the ads in two ways. Participants in a “high involvement” category were told to concentrate on the qualities and characteristics of the brands (mirroring a real-world situation such as paging through a magazine or examining an Internet ad). Participants in a “low involvement” group focused on more peripheral aspects of the ads, as would someone who sees an ad on a bus. Some participants saw ads for all three brands featuring the two celebrities, and others saw only the ads for the watches.

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