Star power: Why celeb marketing sells


Marketing often captures the very essence of human nature. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Watch an hour of news on your favourite television station. From CNN to Al Jazeera to NTV, you will see intermixed between news coverage various commercial advertisements trying to get you to purchase or build your awareness about their brands about everything from cooking fat to body lotion to types of drinks.

Invariably, positioned between logos, messaging and product details, often a famous face pops into the advertisement to promote the product. On television, radio, social and print media, we see or hear our well-known comedians, news presenters, singers as well as sports men and women.

But why do businesses use famous faces and voices to push their products and services? Surely the average consumer of media understands the nature of paid endorsements.

Celebrities often know little to nothing about what they are paid to advocate. Despite our conscious understanding of paid spokespeople, advertisers continue to put famous people before us.

Why? Because it works. Research by Michela Cortini, Antonella Vicenti, and Riccardo Zuffo demonstrates immense power that celebrity endorsements work. But why does logic- defying celebrity marketing work?

Marketing often captures the very essence of human nature. We like to think of ourselves as logical, rational and ethical beings. Our pro-self-bias makes us believe that we make excellent decisions about our plans, purchases, and peers.

But marketers selling a drink or sauce in a long, tall, and thin container sell more than those selling the same drink or sauce in a short and thicker container that holds the same millilitres. Surely humans as rational beings would notice that both containers hold the same quantity. But, no. We make most decisions with our subconscious emotional primordial urges.

Likewise, even the most holy and ethical man who loves his wife with all his heart will still buy a product with a desirable waist-to-hip ratio attractive woman on the product packaging and not realise his reason for choosing that purchase.

Stephen Colarelli and Joseph Dettmann’s seminal research highlights that our human choices in marketing behaviour accentuate primary processes in biological and social evolution critical in survival, natural selection and sexual selection.

Inasmuch, we still retain our ancient preferences for sweet, fatty, or salty food and advertisements that showcase these urges succeed in food sales even though in the modern era of excess, consumptions of these nourishments are less useful and can be harmful to our health.

Also, successful advertisements showcase wide open vistas that bring out our ancient subconscious landscape preferences for savanna-like environments where humans first emerged.

But why does the use of celebrities in advertisements yield higher consumption of the products or services by viewers?

Our brains make powerful associations by what we see or hear around us.

Ancient humans lived in small family clans of no more than 150 members. Our brains became very good at distinguishing faces and immediately classifying them into safe or dangerous and similar or dissimilar. So, faces that we see regularly through the media and films trick our minds and they get categorised into safety because our brains are engineered to survive in ancient times with viewing only a small number of faces categorised into safety rather than the modern onslaught of faces through media.

We may even see a news presenter or a television star’s face more often than our own real-life neighbours.

Then we see those same famous faces or hear those same voices alongside a particular product or service and we feel in our subconscious like we can trust that product even though our conscious logic knows that the celebrity was paid for the endorsement.

Politicians use the power of association all the time. As an example, politicians will show their competitors in advertisements with subtle background movements in the frame mimicking movements of snakes to associate their opposition with human beings’ deep innate fear of serpents.

In summary, celebrity and association marketing carry powerful effects in advertisements. Be aware of your own ancient subconscious emotional urges and avoid falling victim to irrational purchasing decisions.