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When Exclusivity Is Crucial for Celebrity Endorsements

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

(originally published by Booz & Company)

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.

The participants then assessed the degree of matchup between the celebrities and the products and expressed their attitudes toward the brands. The results showed that when a brand matched up with its celebrity endorser’s traits — and when consumers were paying close attention — the brand wasn’t harmed by the fact that its spokesperson endorsed other products. But highly involved consumers who perceive low congruence (as in Vin Diesel pitching an expensive watch amid sophisticated imagery and wording) became significantly more negative as the number of brands the celebrity endorsed grew.

When consumers weren’t scrutinizing an ad, however, the product fit wasn’t as much of a concern, and their attitude simply became more negative as the number of products endorsed by a single celebrity increased. In other words, with little time to evaluate an ad, consumers fixated on how many brands were endorsed rather than weighing whether the fit was persuasive.

In the second experiment, the researchers used 383 participants to explore the effect of several endorsers on one brand, by having the Castolano watches endorsed by either one or three spokespeople. The researchers placed celebrities associated with sophistication (Brosnan, Anthony Hopkins, and Sean Connery) and ruggedness (Diesel, Sylvester Stallone, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) into ads stressing either the elegance or the toughness of the brand.

Half of the participants saw ads with only Brosnan or Johnson, and the remaining subjects viewed three ads with a different celebrity in each; again, participants were further separated into high- and low-involvement scenarios.

When participants carefully evaluated an ad, the marriage of brand and celebrity personality was key. The participants became more positive about the brand as more celebrities endorsed it and were perceived as a good fit, and grew increasingly negative as more inappropriate spokespeople joined the campaign.

Notably, however, the authors found no evidence in a low-involvement context that an increase in the number of endorsers with little relationship to the brand damaged consumer attitudes. In fact, when consumers were not scrutinizing the ads too heavily, their attitude toward the brand became more positive as the number of endorsers increased.

The authors argue that this could be because the mere number of endorsers had a positive influence when consumers weren’t paying close attention. Without a more thorough examination of the brand–celebrity relationship, consumers relied on peripheral clues (in this case, reasoning that the greater the number of people who like it, the better it must be).

In terms of practical application, the authors note that when ads can be carefully evaluated by consumers, a celebrity who endorses several products can damage a brand only when there is a poor fit with the other brands in his or her portfolio. “If managers are confident that ads will be viewed under high involvement,” they write, “then the fit of other brands endorsed is more important than whether other brands are endorsed at all.”

But when ads are going to be viewed under more transient conditions, managers might be best served by hiring as many exclusive endorsers as they can, with no particular regard to their “marriage” with the brand.

Bottom Line:
Consumers respond differently to marketing campaigns that use multiple celebrities, depending on whether they are viewing the ads in a peripheral or highly involved context. If the context is peripheral, consumer response becomes more positive as the number of endorsers increases, so long as the endorsers aren’t backing a lot of other brands as well. If the context is more focused, the endorser’s fit with the brand is crucial, as is the fit that the endorser has with any other brands.

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