Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why celebrities can boost your sales - or not

Whether you should use celebrities or not in marketing seems like a difficult decision. Some studies tell us that celeb marketing is not very effective and that the level of trust for celebrities is very low. At least that is what people say. For example, among women only 2% would find celebrity endorsement valuable when making purchase decisions (while 74% would gladly turn to a friend).

When looking at the subconscious mind, we get another story.

A Dutch study from Erasmus University has found that when a celebrity endorses a product it heightens the activity in the female brain associated with the feeling of affection.

24 women were presented with 40 colour photographs of famous and non-famous women deemed to be similarly attractive, and wearing the same footwear. When confronted with a celebrity, the research team documented heightened activity in a certain part of the brain - the medial oribitofrontal cortex. The same was not observed when pictures of an attractive non-celebrity were presented.

I believe the power of celebrities in advertising lies in the fact that they are faces we recognise. When we look at a face we know studies of the brain has found that it awakens parts of the brain connected with rewards. Other studies have shown that we prefer patterns that we have seen before, suggesting the power of familiarity.

University of Illinois psychologist Chris Fraley has found that people also are sexually drawn to those who resemble their parents or themselves.

The research involved three experiments. In the first, volunteers were shown pictures of strangers’ faces and asked to rate them on sexual attractiveness. They were unaware that they were also being shown photographs just before the strangers’ faces, and these were flashed so quickly they could only be processed subliminally. Half the volunteers were flashed a picture of their opposite gender parent, while the remaining subjects were flashed a picture of an unrelated person.

Those who were exposed to a picture of their parent generally found the stranger's face more sexually attractive than those who were shown the photo of an unrelated person.

A second experiment used images of two faces morphed together. The control group was shown images of faces of strangers morphed together, but the other subjects were shown faces that were composites of a stranger's face and (unknowingly) up to 45% their own face. They then rated the sexual attractiveness of the morph. In this experiment the subjects shown images containing their own face found the picture more sexually attractive.

We would not admit to being attracted to ourselves though... In the final experiment the volunteers were again shown composite pictures, and half were told the composites included their own faces, while the rest were not. In fact none of the composites contained the subjects’ faces. They were again asked to rate their sexual attractiveness. The results showed the subjects who believed the composites contained their own image rated it as less sexually attractive than those who did not.

Sean Mackinnon from Dalhousie University and his team found in their research that when we have a choice, we will sit next to people who resemble ourselves.

Mackinnon's team first observed how students chose in a lecture hall and came to the conclusion their seating position was determined by their looks.

In another part of the study, 174 participants looked at photos of eight individuals and rated how much they liked them, how much they perceived them to have similar attitudes, and thought they would be accepted by them. They also said how close they would choose to sit near each person. Consistent with the earlier studies, participants said they'd sit nearer those individuals who resembled them. They also thought these physically similar individuals would share their attitudes, they liked them more, and they expected to be accepted by them, as compared with their judgments about physically dissimilar others. The shared attitudes factor was the strongest.

These studies may explain why celebrities can attract people to like and choose a certain product, not based on what they are famous for, but because we have seen them lots of times before. We will trust those we recognise, whether we are aware of it or not. The strongest marketing comes from your family or from yourself, but the second best might be a celebrity.

Usage of a celebrity in your marketing campaign could help, but it is definitely not sure.

Peter Daboll from Ace Metrix, studied over 2,000 TV ads to understand whether celebrities today are really worth the significant investment that brands were making. The report 2010 Celebrity Advertisements: Exposing a Myth of Advertising Effectiveness, 2010, showed that fewer than 12% of ads using celebrities exceeded a 10% lift, and one-fifth of celebrity ads had a negative impact on advertising effectiveness.

What to say...? Use your common sense, go deeper in your strategy than thinking celebrity = sales. The correlation is not clear. But it has got potential to be... 

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