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The Impact of Celebrity Endorsers on Consumers' Product

Evaluations: A Symbolic Meaning Approach


James B. Hunt, University of North Carolina at Wilmington


Abstract

This study replicates the method reported in Langmeyer and Walker (1991) and Walker,
Langmeyer, and Langmeyer (1992), expanding their work by using male athletes rather than
young female entertainers, and by using different products. The results indicate the perception of
the endorser does affect the image of the product by moving it toward the image of the endorser.
However, this study does not support Langmeyer and Walker (1991), who found that regardless
of the endorser, the pattern for the endorser/product combination was located closer to the
pattern for the endorser than to the pattern for the product.

Introduction

Endorser credibility is a method frequently used in advertising to influence consumers' attitudes
toward the ad, product evaluations, and purchase intentions. As noted by Lafferty and Goldsmith
(1999), the importance of using a credible source in a company's marketing communications has
been a widely researched topic for decades. Much of this research has focused on celebrity
endorsers. Their use is a "ubiquitous feature of modem marketing," (McCracken, 1989), and a
growing segment of the booming licensing business. It is estimated that more than ten percent of
television advertising includes celebrity endorsements (Walker, Langmeyer, and Langmeyer,
1992).

Background Literature

According to Atkin and Block (1983), there are two reasons why celebrity endorsers have gained
so much popularity. First, they are traditionally viewed as being highly dynamic, having both
attractive and likeable qualities. Secondly, their fame is thought to attract attention to the
product. Advertisers also believe that messages delivered by well-known personalities achieve a
high degree of attention and recall (Ohanian, 1991). Research has also shown that celebrity
endorsements are more effective for products with high psychological or social risk (Atkin and
Block, 1983).

Consumers tend to perceive the celebrity as projecting source characteristics that are then used in
the evaluation of an advertisement and the product being promoted. Source characteristics
involve attributes such as the familiarity of the endorser, their likeability, their similarity to the
consumer, and the fit of their image with the image of the product. Source credibility, in
particular, involves three dimensions: trustworthiness, expertise, and attractiveness (Baker and
Churchill, 1977). These dimensions can make independent contributions to source effectiveness
(Weiner and Mowen, 1985), and can induce an attitude change when they are effectively used in
conjunction with a celebrity endorser.
Trustworthiness

Trustworthiness is, generally considered the major dimension underlying source credibility
(Friedman and Friedman, 1979). It refers to the consumer's confidence in the source for
providing information in an objective and honest manner (0hanian, 1991). When the endorser is
not a friend or family member, it may be difficult for the consumer to have a great deal of
confidence in the endorser. If the objective of the advertisement is, for example, attitude change,
this lack of confidence may result in an unsuccessful execution.

Expertise

Expertise is also considered a major dimension of source credibility. Expertise is the extent to
which a communicator is perceived to be a source of "valid assertions' (Hovland, Janis, and
Kelley, 1953). When an endorser possesses expertise, they have knowledge about the product,
which in turn supports the claims made in the advertisement (Ohanian, 1991). Endorsers will be
perceived as having the most expertise when they endorse products or services related to them.
Research has shown that in persuasive communication, the endorser's perceived expertise has a
positive impact on attitude change (Horai, Naccari, and Fatoullah, 1974).

Attractiveness

Physically attractive communicators are more successful in changing beliefs than are unattractive
communicators (Chaiken, 1979; Dion and Berscheld, 1972). In today's society, people tend to
place a heavy emphasis on attractiveness, and most advertisements feature attractive models. In a
sense, the physical attractiveness of the endorser rubs off on the product, enhancing the product's
image and resulting in positive attitude change (Simon, Berkowitz, and Moyer, 1970; Kahle and
Homer, 1985). This points to the importance of "matching up" the image of the celebrity with the
characteristics of the product. The "match up" notion suggests that the image of the product and
the celebrity should come together, with the relevant attributes of the product being consistent
with the characteristics of the endorser to gain positive impact with increased memorability and
recall (Misra and Beatty, 1990).

Symbolic Meaning

A growing body Of literature suggests that celebrities possess "symbolic meanings" that go
beyond the traditional notions of trustworthiness, expertise, and likeability. McCracken (1989)
believes that celebrity endorsers embody cultural symbolic meanings and associations that they
pass on to the products they endorse. Each role, event, or accomplishment in the career of the
celebrity changes these meanings. The message conveyed by the total of the symbolic meanings
and the image of the product converge in effective advertisements, achieving a balance between
the celebrity and the product (Kamins, 1990).





Jacoby and Mazursky (1984) have examined the idea of celebrity/product balance in a retail
context. They propose that when brand and retailer images become associated, an "averaging"
process is activated such that the party with the more favorable image is adversely affected,
while the party with the less favorable image is enhanced. Langmeyer and Walker (1991) and
Walker, Langmeyer, and Langmeyer (1992) have investigated the impact of celebrity
endorser/product combinations using the approach developed by Jacoby and Mazursky (1984).
They use identical 25-item semantic differential scales to explore the images (i.e., cultural
meanings) evoked by individual celebrity endorsers and products, and then explore the impact of
combining celebrity and product images. The results of their study indicate that Christie Brinkley
and Madonna are perceived as having vastly different images, and the products they may endorse
(bath towels, jeans, VCRs) tend to be perceived as possessing attributes similar to the respective
endorser.

Purpose

The broad focus of this study is to investigate how celebrity endorsers affect consumer
perceptions of products, given McCracken's (1989) notion that celebrities bring their symbolic
meanings to the endorsement process. More specifically, the study replicates the method reported
in Langrneyer and Walker (1991) and Walker, Langmeyer, and Langmeyer (1992), expanding
their work by using male athletes rather than young female entertainers, and by using two
different products. This study examines the images evoked by individual celebrity endorsers and
products, and explores the impact of combining celebrity and product images.

Method

The study involves asking respondents to evaluate a celebrity endorser, a product, and a
combination of the celebrity and the product. One hundred and seventeen (117) undergraduate
business students, 66 male and 51 female, participated in the project. The experiment was a 2 x 3
full factorial design, using two celebrities and three products, resulting in six versions of the
questionnaire. The respondents were randomly assigned to one of the six versions. Each
questionnaire was divided into three parts. Part I asked respondents to evaluate a celebrity,
Michael Jordan or Deion Sanders. Part 2 asked respondents to evaluate one of three products: a
CD player, bed sheets, or jeans. Part 3 asked respondents to evaluate the product in Part 2 when
advertised by the celebrity in Part 1.

In each part of the questionnaire there was a set of 25 identical descriptive semantic differential
pairs the respondent used to rate the celebrities and products. These 25 pairs were taken from
Langmeyer and Walker (1991) and Walker, Langmeyer, and Langineyer (1992), with some
modifications to better fit the male athlete celebrities studied here. Each pair was evaluated on a
seven-point scale with the endpoints representing an extremely descriptive characteristic.
The two celebrities were chosen based on their image differences. They are both athletes, but
their images are quite different. Deion Sanders' cocky, brash image contrasts Michael Jordan's
subdued, more gentlemanly persona. This difference in image allows for the study of contrasting
endorsers and the effect they can have on product meaning.


The three products being used in this study all represent a distinct product category. The CD
player represents a technical product with high information needs. Bed sheets represent a
commodity type product, and jeans represent a high-image product that has been frequently
endorsed.

Results and Discussion

The results show the means for the endorsers (Michael Jordan and Deion Sanders), the products
(CD player, bed sheets, jeans), and the endorser/product combinations. Each of these is rated
separately using the 25 image dimensions. The results may be easier to visualize in terms of a
line plot or scatter plot In all three, the patterns for Michael Jordan would be somewhat "tighter"
than the patterns for Deion Sanders. The points would tend to be closer together. This suggests a
closer correspondence, or better match, between Michael Jordan and the products being endorsed
than between Deion Sanders and the endorsed products. This difference between Michael Jordan
and Deion Sanders, however, is not as pronounced as the difference found by Langmeyer and
Walker (1991) regarding Madonna and Christie Brinkley. It is also apparent that, when judged
alone, the general patterns for Michael Jordan and Deion Sanders are a bit different. Though in a
line plot they would not differ dramatically in overall appearance, a closer inspection of the
results reveals separation on a number of dimensions.

Langmeyer and Walker (1991) found that regardless of the endorser, the pattern for the
endorser/product combination was located closer to the pattern for the endorser than to the
pattern for the product. The results of the present study do not confirm this finding. The pattern
for the endorser/product combination is located closer to the pattern of the endorser for Deion
Sanders, but not in the case of Michael Jordan. This suggests that evaluation of the endorser
may, for some endorsers, have a greater impact on the combination than the evaluation of the
product. Nevertheless, the perception of the endorser does affect the image of the product by
moving it toward the image of the endorser.

The Table shows the three sets of results for a CD player. Results for sheets and jeans are
discussed below, but due to space considerations are not indicated in the Table. Comparing the
evaluations for Michael Jordan and Deion Sanders when judged alone, the two are perceived
very differently. Significant differences are observed on 19 of the 25 dimensions based on test
results. Compared to Deion Sanders, Michael Jordan is perceived as more attractive, higher
quality, natural, safe, more reliable, pleasant, higher class, less intense, less modem, more liked,
less rugged, less cocky, nice, less extroverted, sophisticated, serious, older, more widely
appealing, and as having more integrity. They are both perceived as unusual, hard, masculine,
not sexy, useful and luxurious.

As one would expect, t-test results indicate that CD players are perceived essentially the same by
both groups of respondents. Differences in evaluations are not significant for 21 of the 25
dimensions. This finding helps confirm that the respondents answered the questionnaire seriously
and understood the task, and that the differences found between endorsers and between
endorser/product combinations do in fact have practical significance.


Table. The Impact of Combining Endorser and Product Images: CD Player
Michael Jordan Deion Sanders
Endorser Product Combined Endorser Product
Combined
Scale x x x x x
x

01-Unusual-Ordinary 3.2 5.4* 3.3 2.7 4.4 3.7
02-Attractive-Unattractive 3.7* 3.4 3.2 4.7 3.5 3.5
03-High Quality-Low Quality 2.3* 2.3 2.5 2.9 2.1 2.6
04-Soft-Hard 4.4 5.2* 4.7* 4.9 4.3 4.0
05-Natural-Unnatural 2.7* 4.8 4.0 3.6 4.5 3.8
06-Masculine-Not Masculine 2.0 4.1 3.2 2.2 4.0 3.1
07-Risky-Safe 4.1* 4.6 4.4 2.4 5.0 3.8
08-Unreliable-Reliable 5.5* 5.1* 4.9 4.8 5.8 5.1
09-Pleasant-Unpleasant 2.8* 2.2 2.6 3.9 2.0 3.1
10-High Class-Low Class 2.2* 2.8 2.9 3.1 2.3 2.8
11-Low Keyed-Intense 5.0* 4.3 4.7 6.2 4.6 4.9
12-Sexy-Not Sexy 4.6 4.5 3.8 4.4 4.3 4.1
13-Modern-Old Fashioned 3.0* 1.6 2.1 1.5 1.5 2.2
14-Useless-Useful 5.5 6.1 5.5 5.8 6.4 5.4
15-Luxurious-Basic 2.9 2.6 3.2 2.6 3.0 2.7
16-Like-Dislike 2.3* 1.8 2.6 3.4 1.7 3.0
17-Rugged-Delicate 3.3* 4.5 4.1 2.4 4.5 3.9
18-Subdued-Cocky 4.3* 3.8 3.9* 632 3.9 4.6
19-Nice-Nasty 2.6* 3.2 3.3* 4.8 2.9 4.1
20-Introvert-Extrovert 4.2* 4.6 4.1 5.4 4.2 4.5
21-Sophisticated-
Unsophisticated
2.8* 2.7 2.8 3.9 2.8 3.1
22-Serious-Silly 3.1* 3.5 3.3* 3.8 3.2 3.9
23-Young-Old 3.2* 3.0 3.0 2.2 2.7 2.8
24-Wide Appeal-Limited Appeal 2.1* 1.7 2.5 3.0 1.8 2.6
25-Has Integrity-Lacks Integrity 2.1* 3.7* 3.3 3.4 3.1 3.4

*Significant at p-value.10 compared to same dimension for same variable for Deion Sanders
(same test as Langmeyer & Walker, 199 1; Walker, Langmeyer, & Langmeyer, 1992)

When Michael Jordan and Deion Sanders endorse a CD player, the product takes on some of the
descriptive and symbolic properties belonging to the endorser. For example, Deion Sanders' CD
player is cocky, nasty, and less serious. Surprisingly, Michael Jordan's CD player is perceived as
harder than Deion's, but this may be due to the respondents in the Jordan/CD group having
initially rated CD players as hard. No significant differences are observed on the other
dimensions.

The results for bed sheets are discussed next. When endorsers are judged alone, the results
reveal, as they did for the CD player respondents, very different perceived images for Michael
Jordan and Deion Sanders. These image differences very closely mirror those observed by the
CD player group. The t-tests indicate significant differences on 22 of the 25 dimensions. The two
groups that evaluated bed sheets significantly differ on 7 of the 25 product dimensions, with 6 of
the 7 differences a matter of degree, not description. When sheets are endorsed by Michael
Jordan or Deion Sanders, significant differences result on 9 of the 25 dimensions. Deion Sander's
sheets are seen as more unusual, less safe, less reliable, less pleasant, more intense, less delicate,
more cocky, nasty, and not having as wide of an appeal. These dimensions seem to be fairly
representative of the contrast between the two endorsers.

As for the evaluation results for jeans, different images are again perceived for Michael Jordan
and Deion Sanders. The tests indicate significant differences on 16 of the 25 dimensions. The
results are consistent with the previous discussion, i.e., Michael Jordan is seen as being more
likeable and less cocky. The image of jeans without endorsers is quite similar for both groups.
On only 5 of the 25 dimensions are there significant differences. A very interesting effect occurs
when jeans are paired with the endorsers. Significant differences result on 15 of the 25
dimensions. Michael Jordan and Deion Sanders appear to have more of an impact on a product
that is high image, and has been previously endorsed by celebrities. This finding is in sharp
contrast to Langmeyer and Walker (1991), who found Madonna and Christie Brinkley to have
only moderate effect on the image of jeans. In this study, Michael Jordan's jeans are seen as soft,
natural, safer, more reliable, pleasant, higher class, less in tense, less modem, more useful,
likeable, less cocky, nice, more sophisticated, having a wider appeal, and having integrity.

Conclusion

Celebrities can be very effective in the endorsement of products, however, they can also be
dangerous. The advantages of using a celebrity are that they can increase attention to and
memorability of the ad and product, enhance credibility of the message, and imbue a product
with positive image characteristics. The disadvantage, or danger, is that if a celebrity has a
negative image, it can be passed on to the product being endorsed. As shown in this study, bed
sheets are perceived as ordinary, safe, reliable, and delicate. When advertised by Deion Sanders,
however, bed sheets are perceived as unusual, risky, less reliable, and somewhat rugged. This
suggests that great care should be taken in selecting a celebrity endorser. The celebrity's image
must be taken into account.




The results of this study indicate that the perception of the endorser does affect the image of the
product by moving it toward the image of the endorser. However, this study does not support
Langmeyer and Walker (1991), who found that regardless of the endorser, the pattern for the
endorser/product combination was located closer to the pattern for the endorser than to the
pattern for the product. The results of the present study indicate that the pattern for the
endorser/product combination is located closer to the pattern for the endorser for Deion Sanders,
but not in the case of Michael Jordan. This suggests that evaluation of the endorser may, for
some endorsers, have a greater impact on the combination than the evaluation of the product.
Michael Jordan and Deion Sanders appear to have more of an impact on a product that is high
image, and has been previously endorsed by celebrities. This finding is in sharp contrast to
Langmeyer and Walker (1991), who found Madonna and Christie Brinkley to have only
moderate effect on the image of jeans.

Whether celebrities are good for the endorsement of products is a question that many advertisers
face. The answer is, "It depends on the endorser and the product." Future research needs to
continue focusing on a variety of product categories and a variety of types of endorsers (e.g.,
actors, athletes, entertainers). Different types of audiences should also be studied to help
advertisers better understand the roles of celebrity image, product characteristics, and consumer
profile on product evaluation.


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