In the fields of consumer research, communications, and persuasion, few concepts have been studied more over the decades than that of endorsers in advertisements. An endorser can broadly be defined as any individual who appears in an advertisement as a spokesperson for that product. The endorser can be a well-known actor, athlete, or any other person with celebrity status, or another perceived expert such as a doctor, a scientist, or even the CEO of a firm. Using credible or celebrity endorsers to promote the product is a popular advertising technique used worldwide to attract attention to the ad, enhance the persuasiveness of the message, increase recall of the ad, and make the brand stand apart from competitive products.
The origins of endorsers in advertisements can be traced to source credibility research in social psychology. According to Hovland’s model, the effectiveness of a message depends on the expertness and trustworthiness of the source. Expertness is defined as the perceived ability of the source (endorser) to make valid assertions. Trustworthiness is defined as the perceived willingness of the source to make valid assertions. The expertise and trustworthiness of an endorser in an ad are the two most important dimensions to credibility. An endorser that is seen as knowledgeable, someone with expertise, is more persuasive than one with less expertise. However, the influence of an expert endorser will be diminished if the person is seen as untrustworthy, i.e., dishonest, unethical, or unbelievable.
A third dimension, attractiveness, is sometimes associated with credible endorsers. The roots of source attractiveness also trace back to social psychological research. McGuire’s (1985) model proposed that a message is more effective if the source is familiar, likeable, and/or similar to the receiver (consumer). Familiarity is knowledge about the endorser through exposure; likeability is affection for the endorser as a result of his or her physical appearance and behavior; and similarity is the supposed resemblance between the endorser and the consumer. If the endorser is seen as attractive to the consumer then persuasiveness is enhanced.
To a lesser extent, the dimension of power has been associated with endorsers in advertisements, but little work has been done with this construct. Power is the extent to which the endorser is perceived as having control over positive or negative sanctions and the ability to monitor whether or not the recipient accepts the endorser’s position.
Over the decades, research has confirmed that expertise and trustworthiness are important dimensions of credible endorsers in advertisements. Attractiveness also has been found to be an important dimension, but not in every case. Ohanian (1991) found that attractiveness was not as strong as expertise when respondents indicated their intent to purchase a product. Other research found that endorser attractiveness enhances evaluations of the product when the attractiveness of the endorser was related to the product, as in the case of shampoo or cosmetics (Petty & Wegener 1985; Kamins 1990).
Beyond the expertise, trustworthiness, and attractiveness that the endorser brings to the brand, there are many culturally acquired meanings that are associated with the endorser that can explain why some celebrity endorsers work better than others. According to McCracken (1989), meaning is transferred from the endorser to the product on the basis of the roles they assume in their careers as well as their gender, age, status, personality, and lifestyle.
More recent research on endorsers indicates that while credible endorsers can influence perceptions of the advertisement and indirectly influence perceptions of the brand in a positive manner, the credibility of the company exerts a stronger direct effect on consumer’s attitudes toward the advertisement, the brand, and their likelihood of purchasing the product (Lafferty & Goldsmith 1999).
While the use of endorsers is widespread and their ability to enhance the communication process is generally agreed upon, using endorsers is not without risks. A celebrity’s behavior may embarrass the company and may compromise the image of the brand that the endorser is promoting. Many endorsers have a morals clause in their contract that allows the company to terminate the contract if a controversy arises. In addition, to insure the optimal success of an endorser, it is important that the endorser has star power but does not overshadow the product. The endorser also should be relevant to the advertiser’s audience for that product. Finally, if an endorser is the spokesperson for too many products or companies, the endorser becomes overexposed. This can be detrimental to both the endorser and the companies.
- Hovland, C., & Weiss, W. (1951–1952). The influence of source credibility on communication effectiveness. Public Opinion Quarterly, 5, 635 – 650.
- Hovland, C., Janis, L., & Kelley, H. H. (1953). Communication and persuasion. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- Kamins, M. A. (1990). An investigation into the “match-up” hypothesis in celebrity advertising: When beauty may be only skin deep. Journal of Advertising, 19(1), 4 –13.
- Lafferty, B. A., & Goldsmith, R. E. (1999). Corporate credibility’s role in consumers’ attitudes and purchase intentions when a high versus a low credibility endorser is used in the ad. Journal of Business Research, 44, 109 –116.
- McCracken, G. (1989). Who is the celebrity endorser? Cultural foundations of the endorsement process. Journal of Consumer Research, 16, 310 –321.
- McGuire, W. J. (1985). Attitudes and attitude change. In G. Lindzey & E. Aronson (eds.), Handbook of social psychology. New York: Random House, vol. 2, pp. 233 –346.
- Ohanian, R. (1991). The impact of celebrity spokespersons’ perceived image on consumers’ intention to purchase. Journal of Advertising Research, 31, 46 –54.
- Petty, R., & Wegener, D. T. (1985). Attitude change: multiple roles for persuasion variables. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (eds.), Handbook of social psychology, 4th edn. New York: Oxford University Press, vol. 1, pp. 549 –590.