Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

So, you want to be like Kylie Jenner? The Psychology of Celebrity Endorsement.

It might not surprise you, but Kylie Jenner doesn’t ACTUALLY buy her lavish clothes from the high street store ‘Miss Pap’, and no, she’s not ‘in love’ with her new Daniel Wellington watch - she’s got her own 50K alternative, you do the maths. So why is she posting all these products on her social media pages? Throughout this blog, I shall delve into the concept of 'celebrity endorsements', how these celebs use their roles in the social world, image and popularity to create persuasion like no other.

As of 2015, there has been recorded to be around $2.3 billion active social users. Within this, these social networks have earned what is estimated to be around $8.3 billion from advertising alone. It might not then be too unexpected to hear that a huge 91% of retail brands actually use 2 or more social medial channels, spending up to 20% of their budgets on this social media advertisement, (“96 amazing social media statistics and facts for 2016,” 2016). In an analysis of consumer responses to identical brand publicity in seven popular blogs and seven popular online magazines, Colliander and Dahlen (2011), found that blogs generated higher brand attitudes and purchase intentions.

In today’s new, social media frenzied world; we see celebrity product placement, whether it be on Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat most of our browsing days. One might ask, why do celebrities use these product placements? Product placement isn’t a new craze, it can be seen throughout even the 1790’s - starting with royal endorsements and the promotion of ‘Wedgwood’, a pottery and chinaware company, (I know, nothing like the constant bombardment of the oh so ‘popular’ Boo Tea shakes; which apparently every celeb is using these days as a result of needing to ‘get back at it after the weekend’ - their diet presumably, see Figure 1).
Figure 1. (Celebrity Endorsement – Throughout the Ages, 2004)
I mean, chances of them actually using these products are very slim - they’re only in it for he paycheck, as so beautifully demonstrated by Scott Disick in this hilarious post, see Figure 2:
Figure 2. (O'Toole, 2016)
In this quickly deleted, but forever unforgotten; Instagram post, Scott Disick reveals details on his social media product placement extents by LITERALLY COPYING AND PASTING instructions given to him by Boo Tea on how to promote their product, a big mistake to make when you are earning up to $20,000 for posting. So why do these celebrities endorse products in which they probably have no need, or want; to use in the first place?

In the 2000’s, research has shown that by having celebrity ambassadors promote your products, sales dramatically improve. An example demonstrating this finding comes from Nike - by using Tiger Woods to promote their golf balls, a $50 million increase in golf ball sales occurred between 1996 and 2002, (Celebrity Endorsement - Throughout the Ages, 2004). How did this simple use of a celebrity provide such dramatic increase in sales? We can look at this through the psychological phenomena..

Social Proof

The more it appears everyone is doing it, the more likely others will join and agree. We seem to determine what is correct by looking at what other people think is correct, (Lun et al,. 2007). In reference to product placement, the way in which celebrity endorsements promote sales could be explained by this phenomena.
A simple study by Latane and Darley (1968), demonstrates this perfectly. You’re sat in a room and suddenly it begins to fill with smoke, you’re going to get out, right? I mean, that seems like the obvious answer to me, however; this study exhibited different findings. The researchers found that where there were 2 passive confederates whom acted as though nothing was wrong, whilst the room filled with smoke; only 10% of the subjects in their study actually left the room or reported the problem. The rest of them carried on with their task, simply waving the smoke from their faces.
Back to product placement - when we are constantly seeing that people, who are deemed to be representative of what is desirable in society; are using these certain products - we are going to want to use them to. It is this provision of both normative and informational influence which promotes us to try out these ‘great’ products. Like the participants in the above study, we simply follow what it looks like most people are doing. We don’t have to think ourselves that a certain product is good, we only need to think that others think it is good.

Associative Learning

If you received an award in front of someone you previously were neutral towards, the probability of liking them increases. The positive aspects of the reward become associated with the person, (Lott & Lott, 1965).

The effect of celebrity endorsements within the world of advertising can be explained through these associative learning principles. As demonstrated in Brian Till's 1998 paper, when we see pictures of our favourite celebrities appearing on our newsfeed or in our search bars, we feel a certain amount of positive feeling - it is nice to see someone you like or perhaps look up to, right? By getting these celebrities with large fan bases to endorse products, we learn to associate these positive feelings we have about the celebrity alone with the product that they commonly endorse. Like the research findings from Lott and Lott (1965), the positive aspects of the celebrity become associated with the product.

This leads us to think we have these positive feelings to, a certain trainer brand let’s say; and is going to make us much more likely to pick this brand over another when it comes to it. Look to the diagram above for a visual explanation!

Source Credibility

Credibility is an important aspect to persuasion. If a message comes from a credible source, we are more likely to trust and act upon it. A study by Goldsmith, Lafferty, & Newell (2000), assessed the impact endorser credibility had on the shaping of attitudes towards brands. It was found that endorser credibility had the strongest impact on the participants’ attitudes towards the brand and purchase intentions, even more so than the corporates’ own credibility.
If you are a huge fan of a certain celebrity, you probably perceive them as a trustworthy person. People who are trustworthy, physically attractive, have high social status and power must hold the correct attitudes. If they say that a product is good, it is good. People are more likely to attribute credibility to a company if they are using endorsement through a celebrity that you trust.

Landscaping Techniques

‘If you want to move a marble on a table, you can push it or you can lift the opposite end of the table. Pushing it is persuasion, lifting is pre-persuasion’ (Pratkanis, 2007)

Celebrity endorsements can be considered as an example of pre-propaganda, through the creation of images and stereotypes - ‘It is cool to use this product because Justin Bieber does’; is a type of preconditioning of the public.

Social Modelling

As most famously demonstrated in the ‘Bobo doll’ study, Bandura, Ross and Ross (1961), provided evidence for the case of learning via observation, imitation and modelling. People learn from one another.
The celebrities you follow on your own social media feeds can be considered to be your important role models. It has been found that role models play a big part on teenager purchase intentions (Makgosa, 2010). By seeing your favourite role model endorse something, the likelihood of you to then consequently buy that product increases. We learn how to behave, in relation to our consumerism, by the way that our role models demonstrate we should. These celebrity endorsements are actually shaping our own purchase intentions.
Agenda Setting and the Availability Heuristic

This theory relates to the ability of the media to influence what topics are salient in the public agenda. Things which are placed highly on this agenda will appear to be more important and subsequently used to define the criteria used in the general public's’ subsequent decisions. By setting agendas, the media (the products in which are regularly endorsed by celebrities, in this case) can limit the items that are thought about by the public exclusively to those that they want you thinking about. For example, repeated discussion of an issue in the media leads viewers to think it is more important, (Iyengar & Simon, 1983).

Taking an instagram feed for example, if one were to follow a set of celebrities from the same sort of group, it would be likely to find that they were endorsing similar products. This provides these specific products to be top of my agenda. When it comes to purchases, I am much more likely to sway towards these. My 'reality' may be that I do not have any need for a Boo Tea prescription. However, when I see Louis Tomlinson, (along with many other celebs on my feed) tell me day to day that Boo Tea is an important aspect of his life, that becomes the 'Media Reality' - Boo Tea is needed. My new reality is a fabrication of what I have seen being promoted most regularly in the media, which leads me to want to purchase said product. 

This ties in with availability heuristics, a form of System 1 automatic and effortless thinking leading to preferential consumer patterns for those products most available to mind. Regularly endorsed products have seen, on average, a 2% increase in stock returns as compared to those less regularly endorsed by celebrities, (Elberse & Verleun 2012). Oh, so that's why companies pay thousands to celebrities to post pictures of them with their products...

Message Repetition and Mere Exposure

With a slightly similar basis to agenda setting and availability heuristics, message repetition can increase believability and acceptance. Mere, repeated exposure of an individual to a stimulus enhances his or her attitude towards it, the mere exposure provides a condition which makes the stimulus more accessible to perception, (Zajonk, 1968). The idea of mere exposure has been used to explain product placement (Vollmers & Mizerski, 1994).

Mere exposure, in relation to product placement, can be explained like this - viewers will develop more favourable feelings towards a brand simply because of their repeated exposure to it - as demonstrated by Baker, (1999). This mere exposure doesn't even need to be recalled, a simple repetition of exposure will lead to more favourable attitudes towards that brand (Janiszewski, 1993). 

It is common to see that celebrities have a select range of products in which they are regular endorsers for. This provides repetition of the message ‘buy this’ for each of those products to create stronger want to purchase said product. This explains the rise in sales for these regularly endorsed products.

Theory of Planned Behaviour

The theory of planned behaviour (Figure 3) comprises of three suggested components that lead to an intention to perform said behaviour.
Figure 3.
The first component, perceived behavioural control; is the belief that you can in fact control your own behaviour - this could be related to the idea of an internal locus of control. Perhaps you never thought you could be similar to your favourite celebrity, but where you see constant posts surrounding the sorts of products celebrities buy - you can do the same and increase your similarities!

Next, we have social norms. The fact that so many credible sources are advertising how good a product is, and that they actually use it themselves; increases the norms relating to that product. Something which may not have been considered as a purchase is suddenly becoming something that most people are using, so you should too.

Attitudes towards the behaviour relate to what you actually think about something, in terms of products this could be, for example, your opinions on the use of home teeth whitening kits, which are highly endorsed by celebrities. We may have certain predispositions towards the health implications these teeth whitening kits may have, but perhaps due to this high exposure of people in the public eye using them and having no problems, these attitudes could become more positive.

Theory of planned behaviour suggests that where you have a combination of these 3 components, there will be intent to perform the behaviour - in this case being buying the product that has been endorsed by the celebrity.

So as we can see, perhaps it isn’t so crazy to be paying a celebrity $20,000 to post a picture of your products after all. Although it does cost, it does work - and pretty effectively too. Celebrity endorsements are extremely powerful in nature, and whilst they are used to increase sales of non harmful products, one must worry about the implications if they were to endorse anything else..

Baker, W. E. (1999). When can affective conditioning and mere exposure directly influence brand choice? Journal of Advertising, 28, 31-46.

Bandura, A., Ross, D. & Ross, S.A. (1961). Transmission of aggression through imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 575-82.

Celebrity Endorsement – Through the Ages. (2004). Retrieved October 27, 2016, from
Colliander, J., & Dahlen, M. (2011). Following the fashionable friend: The power of social media - weighing the publicity effectiveness of Blogs versus online magazines. Journal of Advertising Research, 51, 313.

Iberse, A., & Verleun, J. (2012). The economic value of celebrity endorsements. Journal of Advertising Research, 52, 149.
Goldsmith, R. E., Lafferty, B. A., & Newell, S. J. (2000). The impact of corporate credibility and celebrity credibility on consumer reaction to advertisements and brands. Journal of Advertising, 29, 43–54.
Iyengar, S., & Simon, A. (1993). News coverage of the gulf crisis and public opinion: A study of agenda-setting, priming, and framing. Communication Research, 20, 365–383.

Janiszewski, C. (1993). Preattentive mere exposure effects. Journal of Consumer Research, 20, 376-392.
Latane, B., & Darley, J. M. (1968). Group Inhibition of Bystander Intervention in Emergencies. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 10, 215–221.
Lott, A. J., & Lott, B. E. (1965). Group cohesiveness as interpersonal attraction: A review of relationships with antecedent and consequent variables. Psychological Bulletin, 64, 259–309
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Makgosa, R. (2010). The influence of vicarious role models on purchase intentions of Botswana teenagers. Young Consumers, 11, 307–319.
O’Toole, C. (2016, May 19). Scott Disick appears to copy and paste Instagram product placement. Daily Mail. Retrieved October 27, 2016, from
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Till, B. D. (1998). Using celebrity endorsers effectively: Lessons from associative learning. Journal of Product & Brand Management, 7, 400–409.

Vollmers, S., & Mizerski, R. (1994) A review and investigation into the effectiveness of product placement in films. In K. W. King (Ed.), Proceedings of the 1994 conference of the American Academy of Advertising (pp. 97-102). Athens, GA: American Academy of Advertising.
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96 amazing social media statistics and facts for 2016. (2016, March 7). Retrieved October 27, 2016, from Marketing,

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