Marketing Dissertation. An investigation of Celebrity Endorsement, with particular focus on the long-term marketability of celebrity sports personalities

Authors Avatar

Charlotte Blake                                                                _        MSc Marketing 2008/10

MSc Marketing 2008/10

An investigation of Celebrity Endorsement, with particular focus on the long-term marketability of celebrity sports personalities

By Charlotte Louise Blake

Confidentiality Statement

The dissertation may be made freely available immediately for academic purposes.


Charlotte L Blake, May 2010


I would like to dedicate this work to my fiancé, Miguel Rodriguez, as if it wasn’t for his support I would not have had the option of returning to university to pursue my ambition to get a masters degree, and change the direction of my career.

I would also like to thank my family for their lifelong support; my father for always being the best source of advice, and my mother for always being there.

Furthermore, I would like to pay my gratitude to John May for being a great lecturer throughout the year, and a good supervisor who always pointed me in the right direction.

It is also imperative that I mention my classmates for the past 2 academic years, which have all proven to be a great bunch of people to be around, in and out of the classroom.

Finally, thank you to everyone who participated in my research, I couldn’t have done this without you. In particular Jessica Cole and Jessica Brittan, who not only participated in my focus groups, but also set them up, and hosted the events at their home. Whilst not forgetting, the legendary, Mel Stein, the only professional sports agent who agreed to spare his time for an interview with me, despite being laid up in a hospital bed.



Research and knowledge around celebrity endorsements is an area that many people have paid a lot of interest in, and as a result, is a topic of contemporary importance, academically. However, this is a subject that, when implemented in to the market place, can achieve heavy investment, and can reap heavy dividends for the practitioners, which is why it is a subject matter with great value. For this reason this paper aims to further our understanding of the area in a way to add value to the industry. In particular for sports celebrities who are no longer active within their field of expertise, i.e. those who are retired professional athletes.

In order to gain the required knowledge a hybrid approach to the research has been undertaken, there was a combination of desk, interpretive, and positivistic research. The desk research used a combination of sources in order to synthesise the current knowledge within this subject area, and a good foundation to base the rest of our research on. Then focus groups with potential consumers of celebrity endorsed brands were conducted, as this offered an insight from the consumer’s perspective. An in-depth interview was also administered, with professional and notorious sports agent, Mel Stein, who reflected on his experience in the industry to share his opinions around the subject. Following this the qualitative research was then backed-up with the results of a self-administered on-line survey, which has been based on a convenience sample of 100 people.

The results of this study suggest that for retired sports celebrities to enjoy long-term marketability they will need to achieve one of 2 things; the first option is ‘legendary’ status within their playing career, alternatively they could continue to seek ‘celebrity’ status by turning to a new occupation within the media; for example as a TV presenter, or sports pundit.

  1. Literature Review

“A celebrity endorser is any individual who enjoys public recognition and who uses this recognition on behalf of a consumer good appearing with it in a commercial”

McCracken (1989)

1.1        Aim

The aim of this study is to explore the commercial influence of celebrity endorsement with particular focus on the extent that this could influence celebrities ability to be commercially profitable in the long-term and not just within their playing career.

1.2        Introduction

Despite Miciak and Shanklin (1994) reporting that only one in five commercials that have used celebrities met the overall strategic expectations of the brand, Bradley (1996) says that approximately 20 percent of all commercials use some type of celebrity endorsement, regardless of the fact that this is a statement made more than 13 years ago, it is clear to see that whether its 20 percent or not, the use of celebrity endorsement is still strongly used in marketing.

Today, in a time when brands have to differentiate themselves from their competitors due to advertising over exposure celebrity endorsement strategies constitute preferred marketing activities (Erdogan, 1999). As a consequence companies invest large sums of money to associate themselves with popular endorsers.

This is why this subject area offers an important contribution to the industry knowledge base, as it offers vast investment by many brands, and a large source of income for many athletes. For example, according to the business bible, Forbes, earnings estimates from June 2008 to June 2009 suggest that endorsements offered a $110m income for Tiger Woods, $42m for David Beckham, and $33m for the likes of Roger Federer (Appendix 1).

Hughes and Shank (2005) recognise how this billion dollar industry has developed due to the fact that brands attempt to attract consumers by associating their products and services with this popular industry with the use of endorsements.

The purpose of this paper is to look at the broad picture of celebrity endorsement in order to form a synthesis of the knowledge that existing research tells us about the subject, with an aim to follow this up with primary research that will added to the existing body of knowledge. Understanding the practitioner’s perspective on celebrity endorsement is a fairly new and growing body of research that is of value since the majority of research has focused on the consumer’s perspective (Miciak and Shanklin, 1994). This means that there should be a big enough gap for an extensive contribution with this study. As celebrity endorsement is widely used for marketing in today’s market, therefore this study will be one that will look to truly help industry to make endorsements as effective as possible. This report will be taking the perspective of the celebrity and/or the agent and will look at ways they need to conduct their business to maximise the efficiency of their own product; the athlete.

The initial literature review will first put the topic into context by examining what a celebrity endorsement is, where it came from and a credible argument for why marketers should continue to use them. The paper will also consider the effects of a celebrity endorsing multiple brands and how a brand uses more than one celebrity. Following this there is a discussion on the types of power celebrities have over consumers, the importance of the correct celebrity being chosen for the right endorsement and the attributes that devalue the marketability of a celebrity, before exploring the long-term marketability of celebrity sports stars.

1.3        Origin

The use of celebrity endorsements for products is not new to marketing (Kaikati, 1987). The earliest example of celebrity endorsement I could find dated back to 1905 when Murad Cigarettes used personalities from the entertainment industry (Clark and Horstman, 2003). Another early example was in the nineteenth century when Queen Victoria was used to endorse Cadburys Coca (Sherman, 1985).

1.4        Academic Frameworks for Celebrity Endorsements

The topic of celebrity endorsements had attracted a considerable amount of interest from the academic and practitioner fields. Many studies have been undertaken to examine the use of celebrity endorsement in advertising.  Findings show that celebrity endorsement is a ubiquitous feature of modern marketing (McCracken 1989) and that celebrities build emotional bonds with consumers (Thomson 2006), project a credible image in terms of expertise, persuasiveness, trustworthiness, and objectiveness (Till and Shrimp, 1998) and can transfer cultural meaning from the celebrity to the advertised product (McCracken 1986). Therefore celebrities increase awareness of a company’s advertising, create positive feelings towards brands and are perceived by consumers as more entertaining (Soloman 2006).  This leads to celebrities generating greater likelihood of consumers’ choosing the endorsed brand (Ohnian 1991).

During this review four core models stand out as a framework for understanding celebrity endorsements. Social psychologists created theories behind the credibility and usefulness of such endorsements, and the focus of this review will be on The Meaning Transfer Model (McCracken 1986, 1989), The Product Match-up Hypothesis (Kahle and Homer 1985), The Source Credibility Model (Hovland et al 1953) and The Source Attractiveness Model (McGuire 1968).

Throughout the review these theories will be applied to the most relevant areas, making sense of the reasons why celebrities have particular influences of consumer behaviour and the use of celebrities in advertising.

1.5        The relationship between sport and celebrity endorsement

Fink et al (2004) applied Kahle and Hamer’s (1985) Match Up Hypothesis and learning theory to review the effects of athlete attractiveness and expertise on the fit between the endorser and the event, attitudes towards that event and intentions to purchase tickets to the event. The authors found that attractiveness and expertise were both positively related to an endorser-event fit, and that the effect of expertise on fit was stronger than that of attractiveness.

Peetz et al (2004) used McCracken’s (1989) Meaning Transfer Model to explore the role of gender in the transfer of meaning from the endorser to products and purchase intentions. Their findings indicated that male endorsers are more likely to be identified correctly and to influence purchase intentions. Moreover, gender difference exists in the perceptions of endorser expertise and influence on purchase decisions. They conclude that gender plays a significant role in the transfer of meaning from the athlete to the final customer.

For instance, Boyd and Shank (2004) also took gender into consideration when researching the effect that endorsers have over their consumers. They claim that consumers trust endorsers more when they are of the same gender as themselves.

1.6        How to induce a new celebrity endorsement

When a new relationship is built between a brand/product and an endorsing celebrity, the consumer needs to be taught the association. This is done by using a learning process called classical conditioning, which provides a mechanism by which an associative link between a brand and a celebrity can be built (Till, 1998). Repeated pairings of the two ‘stimuli’ to be associated is key to the associative learning process, therefore the two must be shown together in the brand communications.

Each celebrity can encompass a variety of endorsements (McCracken, 1989), there are a number of different strategies taken to endorsing a product/brand. The choices of strategies that have been observed are between ‘implicit’ v ‘explicit’ or ‘imperative’ v ‘co-present’. An implicit strategy will use a celebrity that expresses that they use the product at hand, whereas a celebrity using an explicit strategy will state that they endorse the product.

An imperative strategy would require the celebrity to tell potential customers that they should use the product and the co-present strategy means that the celebrity would merely appear with the product. An example of a co-present strategy would be Tom Cruise in the film Top Gun, appearing with Ray Ban sunglasses.

Other endorsers could be a ‘normal consumer’ or a character; many successful brand campaigns have created celebrities and through exposure and likability these characters (real or not) have become quasi-celebrities in their own right. Their value is limited to their function and with few exceptions these icons rarely move beyond the brand that created them. Examples of these so-called celebrities include Howard Brown (Halifax) and the Jolly Green Giant (Green Giant sweet corn) (Pringle, 2004).

However real celebrities are the contrary, as they will have a defined personality and are generally famous for being good at something, even if that means being famous for being famous, in respect of many reality TV stars and IT girls. (Pringle, 2004)

However, this paper will focus its study on the endorsements by sports celebrities.

1.7        Why use a celebrity endorser?

Celebrity endorsement is a ubiquitous feature of modern marketing (McCracken, 1989). Dean and Diswas (2001) report that celebrity endorsements can result in more favourable advertisement ratings and product evaluations and as a result celebrity endorsements can have a substantial positive impact on financial returns for the brands/products that are being endorsed (Erdogan, 2001). Farhanmehr (2000) suggests that brands/products use celebrity endorsers as a way to differentiate a brand from its competitors by giving the consumers a tangible element that can be recognised by the public and hopefully give them a competitive advantage. Hsu and Macdonald (2002) say that celebrities act as effective spokespeople for products and brands and would have more of an impact if the message is sent by a celebrity that the consumers have a sense of similarity with and admiration for according to Dimed and Joulyana (2005). This fits with the ideas of the self image congruence model (Onkvisit and Shaw, 1987) which predicts that consumers choose products that match their ideal self which demonstrates the link between purchases and the social identity of people. Alsmadi (2006) says that the desire that some consumers have to imitate their celebrity idols go to the extent of emulating the way that they speak, dress, communicate and most importantly, the brands they choose.

Having the knowledge of the importance of using a celebrity endorser is pivotal, as it offers the foundations for the selling point as to why marketers should use an endorser, as opposed to traditional marketing strategies. On top of this, it also defines the task at hand for what the celebrity should aim to achieve on behalf of the company he/she is endorsing.

When celebrities accept themselves in to a contract to endorse a product they must understand that they have a responsibility to that particular company. They must also consider the idea that their behaviours away from the campaign are still a reflection of them and the brands that they endorse, but can celebrities avoid humanistic errors in their life? This also leads to the dilemma of if a celebrity did not make characteristic mistakes, consumers may not feel they can relate to them, as everyone is entitled to make mistakes in life and by almost being the perfect role model would challenge ideas set out in the self image congruence model. Therefore a celebrity must be careful to keep human characteristics and not be perceived as a commodity that would be impossible to imitate.

1.8        Multiple Brand Endorsements

Park and Lessig (1977) recognise different types of reference group influences. When a consumer is making a purchase decision they look to a ‘reference group influence’ to guide them towards making a decision. The use of a celebrity in order to endorse the product or brand may influence a consumer’s decision if that celebrity is part of their value expressive influence. The likelihood that a brand or a celebrity will become part of that consumer’s identification membership reference group is due partly to the ‘mere exposure’ phenomenon, which suggests that a relationship will become more positive by seeing the product/brand/celebrity more often.

There are a number of advantages for celebrities to have a great deal of exposure, one being to increase their involvement (Park and Lessig, 1977), another to increase that celebrity’s profile and publicity, and as a result creating a greater financial wealth for themselves (Hsu and Macdonald, 2002). However, Cooper (1984) suggests that over-exposure can make customers aware that the endorsement has less to do with the attributes of the brand or product and more to do with the financial compensation. Tripp, Jensen and Carlson (1994) found that if a celebrity endorses many different products both the celebrity and their associated brand and products will have negative perceptions as consumers feel that this behaviour shows that the celebrity lacks integrity. This view point is supported by Schlect (2003) who goes on to say that this over-exposure can create a saturation factor, resulting in the loss of the celebrities’ credibility. Belch and Belch (2001) recognise that consumers are becoming more marketing savvy and when seeing a celebrity overexpose him/herself in a variety of endorsements they could portray the message that the celebrity prefers the financial benefits rather than transferring any real meaning to the product, which in time will affect the buyers behaviour. Tripp (et al, 1994) believes that if a celebrity insists on endorsing multiple brands that the optimum amount of endorsement deals is three and any more would have a negative impact on the reputations of the brands and the celebrity.

There are many arguments to suggest that when a celebrity endorses too many brands they sacrifice their credibility. If they take on too many in their career this may limit their marketability in the long run for the sake of short-term financial satisfaction. However, if they do not take the opportunities when they arise these endorsement opportunities may pass the celebrities by and not come about again; taking the long-term approach may be considered a big gamble.

Whether a limited number of 3 endorsements could be proven “optimum” leaves a lot to be investigated as there are many celebrities proving this claim wrong; for example David Beckham and Wayne Rooney. David Beckham has endorsements with Pepsi, Marks and Spencer, Police Sunglasses, Calvin Klein, Adidas, Vodaphone and many more. Whereas Wayne Rooney has endorsements with Ford, Nike, Coke Zero, Mastercard, Pringles as well as others.

There is no evidence to demonstrate that these multiple endorsements have damaged the power that these celebrities have as endorsers. In fact, the evidence suggests the contrary, as according to Forbes (2009), the celebrities mentioned have a year on year growth in their endorsing income.

Jowdy and Macdonald (2002) recognised a form of endorsing called ‘Super Branding’, whereby the athlete know their limits and got a good balance of small and large endorsements and worked closely with the companies in order to create mutual benefit strategies. Another example would be Michael Jordan who accumulated over 75 endorsement deals in his career (Broder, 1997). Historically Michael Jordan can be considered the pioneer for being the first global sports celebrity endorser to set the standard for the power athlete endorser (Jowdy and McDonald, 2002). Despite retiring in 2003 Jordan is still the 3rd highest earner of sports stars in the world today, earning an estimated $45 million dollars between June 2008 and June 2009 (Forbes, 2009, and Appendix 1).

1.9        Multiple Celebrity Endorsements

Not only do some celebrities endorse multiple brands, but companies sometimes often use multiple celebrities to endorse their brand, according to Hsu and Macdonald (2002) the reasoning behind this is that it can build a sense of consensus, avoid boredom and appeal to multiple audiences. Mowen and Brown (1981) agree, saying that by using multiple celebrities to endorse a brand it may create a consensus and help advertisers to positively affect consumer perception. A recent example of this was the Adidas Originals House Party advertisement (YouTube, 2008) that used a large number of celebrities in an advertisement by where they all attended a house party. This particular advertisement has been cited for its ability to get its broadly based target audience involved with trying to identify the many different types of celebrities present at the party and, more importantly, on a global scale that matches the appeal of the brand. For example, David Beckham is a football player, RUN DMC is a male rap artist, Russell Simmons is an American entrepreneur, Kevin Garnet is a basket ball player, Missy Elliot is a female hip hop star and there are many more to add to this list, which will appeal to consumers with different interests.

Another example is how the Samsung sponsorship deal with Chelsea Football Club has resulted in a number of Chelsea players endorsing the Samsung products. In 2008 Samsung used players; Petr Cech, Nicholas Anelka, Michael Essian and John Terry in order to promote their new LCD TV in Europe, and they also used Germany and Chelsea midfielder Michael Ballack to promote it in Germany (Carter, 2008). By associating a brand with a team the advertiser can increase ‘Customer Involvement’ by being associated with a ‘cult’ or becoming a ‘cult product’ by associating the brand with celebrities that have loyalty from their fans or even worship (Greenwald and Leavitt, 1984).

At the same time the brand, in such an emotionally rousing and tribal area as football must be careful not to exclude those who have that level of involvement with their opposition teams. A consumer’s level of involvement will be dictated by their level of commitment to an attitude towards that brand, celebrity, or team in this case. Kelman (1958) considers the different levels of commitment to an attitude, and he recognises at an internalisation level attitudes are part of a person’s value system and are very difficult to change because of the level of importance to that person. This is the level of commitment a fan may have for their football team, and if the consumer is a Chelsea fan it may work in favour for Samsung, however, if the consumer is a Manchester United fan, the results may be quite the contrary.

When considering the commitment a consumer may have to an element that is associated with a brand, or a rival brand, taking into account the Extended Self Theory (Belk, 1988) can also play its part. The extended self on a group level is the attachment a consumer can have to a certain group, such as a football team, and can consider that group to be part of ‘the self’. In other words, they consider the team to be part of who they are. Commitments towards external societies can have a large emotion connection with people, and therefore products that are associated with rival football teams may ignite negative feelings.

As with both of the above examples, Adidas and Samsung, they have made their commercials, what Giardina (2001) describes as “transnational”, as he talks about the nationally coded celebrities and recognises three categories for nationally coded celebrities as; global-local, local and exotic-local. Global local is a celebrity that will be recognised in a global campaign, a local celebrity is a local celebrity in a local campaign and an exotic local is a celebrity that has global appeal because of their “foreignness”. An example of an exotic-local is Jonah Lomu; a rugby player who represented New Zealand at international level, an athlete playing a sport best described as marginal in north America, from a country few could probably locate on a map (Grainger et al, 2005 ). Grainger (et al, 2005) go on to say that Adidas do not simply rack up a number of globally renowned stars, but look to address global niches through athletes that may be either a global idol, local luminary or foreign enigma. By tapping in to their own nationality codes, celebrities may find more marketing opportunities at home and abroad.

1.10        Social Power Celebrities can exert on Consumers

Celebrities build emotional bonds with customers (Thomson, 2006), Frieden (1984) tested four types of endorser and concluded that compared with experts, typical customers and CEO’s, celebrities project a credible image in terms of expertise, persuasiveness, trustworthiness and objectiveness (Till and Shimp, 1998). By using a celebrity to endorse a product that company can rely on the celebrity to exert their social power, which refers to the capacity to alter the actions of others (French and Raven, 1959). There are several different types of social power, but the categories that apply to celebrities are referent power and expert power. Referent power is whereby a consumer will try to imitate the behaviours of a celebrity that they admire. However expert power is where the celebrity has expert knowledge in their field of expertise and can use that knowledge to give advice and recommendations. Kelman (1961) believes that when the source is an expert the influence on consumers occurs through the process of internalisation. Internalisation is when an individual accepts influence that is congruent with their value belief system. Ohanian (1991) believes that physically attractive communicators are more successful in changing people’s beliefs than people who are perceived as less attractive by the public.

The Source Creditability Model looks at the perceived ability (expertise) and willingness (trustworthiness) of the source to make valid assertions (Hovland et al, 1953). Belonax (et al, 2006) believe that credibility has both a cognitive component regarding the expertise of a spokesperson, an affective component regarding the trustworthiness of a spokesperson, enforcing the theory that celebrities are particularly effective endorsers because they are viewed as highly trustworthy, believable, persuasive and likeable (Friden, 1984).

Therefore when a sports personality is endorsing a product that is relevant with their field they are probably exerting their expert power. However, when they are endorsing a product that is not relevant to their area of expertise they are used for their referent power (French and Raven, 1959).

Roger Federer’s endorsements for Nike is an example of celebrity expert power, he has specific knowledge about tennis, and can use this knowledge to endorse products within his area of expertise, such as Nike tennis clothes, as he wears them every time he competes people will trust his opinion. However, his endorsement for Gillette is an example of celebrity referent power, as Gillette will want to attract the admirers of Federer and use his referent power to get them to imitate his behaviour by copying his choice of shaver.

Boyd and Shank (2004) claim that when it comes to an endorser being an expert, women consider endorsers as experts when there is a strong fit between the endorser and the product. Whereas, men do not need a good endorser-product match to consider the endorser an expert.

The Source Attractiveness Model (McGuire, 1968) supports the idea that the attractiveness of a celebrity will have a favourable effect on consumers. McCracken (1989) concurs with this model as he believes that in order to create effective messages companies must also consider the attractiveness of the spokesperson. Roy (2006) believes that likeability is the acceptance of the source by virtue of its attractiveness and appearance. ‘Attractiveness’ does not always refer to the physical attractiveness of a person, but can also refer the familiarity, similarity and likeability.

Till and Busler (1998) recognised that consumers understand that athletes are paid in order to endorse products, but at the same time they understand that when Ryan Giggs promotes football boots or Michael Jordan sports shoes it makes sense that the celebrities are “expert” and use the product every day. The same article discusses the reasons for the partnership of ex-football player Gary Lineker and his endorsement of Walkers crisps being due to his main characteristics of fair play and attractiveness. Lineker was never cautioned for foul play during his whole career, showing him stealing a small boy’s crisps in one of his many adverts was considered inspired advertising, which would be considered referent power.

Join now!

Would it be wise to assume that during an athlete’s career it would be a credible decision to endorse products within their area of expertise? However after their career, providing they create the right image, they can then utilise their referent power to endorse products beyond their area of expertise.

The acceptable number of endorsements is proving to become a frustrating subject in this report; this raises concerns that the number of products endorsed by one celebrity, when the endorser is considered the ‘expert’, is in fact limitless. There does not seem to be existing research that has investigated consumer’s ...

This is a preview of the whole essay