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Stars: Are They Just Like Us?

Certain kinds of star power only go so far; consumers want real reasons to buy into your brand.

With one out of three women and one out of four men on a diet at any given time, the weight-loss industry will continue to thrive. But it's companies that tap believable celebs to endorse their product that strike a special chord with consumers.

Swimsuit season is upon us, which means it’s time to shed some weight, stick with the P90X, cut back on the sweets and never eat past 9 p.m. Who am I kidding? I couldn’t keep my New Year’s resolutions, let alone be motivated by a bikini. And I might be OK with that, too, if it weren’t for my pesky pals Kim, Khloe, Dan and Valerie. I see them everywhere — in magazines and newspapers, online and on television. Their message is relentless and always the same: “If I can lose weight, so can you.” According to a study at the University of Colorado at Boulder, one out of three women and one out of four men are on a diet at any given time. Moreover, the university reports that as of 2007 the diet industry grossed $40 million per year and was continuing to grow. Knowing this, are we really supposed to believe that stars are just like us? Or, are the celebrity faces that sell us health and fitness just another pretty picture of a dream we’ll never achieve? With their latest celebrity spokespeople, Jason Alexander and Jennifer Hudson, companies such as Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers want us to believe the former. Which begs the question: will we?

Maybe I’m just blogging out loud, but it seems like stars who are more like me are more likely to get my attention.

I’d like to think that if I had Kardashian money, was a Hall of Fame quarterback or worked as a successful TV actress, I would have all sorts of time for diet and exercise, not to mention resources to boot. It’s easy to spin arguments like these into excuses. But Alexander, who most of us know as George Costanza from the wildly popular and now popularly syndicated sitcom Seinfeld, was short, bald and had a belly, a belly that grew over the show’s nine seasons. His character liked to eat. To put it mildly, he was not the celebrity face we envied (in fact, at one point he was the face of KFC). Nor, for that matter, was Hudson, whose weight issues were highly publicized when she went from “one of us” to an Oscar winner almost overnight. In the wake of this was a series of personal tragedies that played out very publicly, thus holding our attention while eliciting compassion. I can’t help but wonder if Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers chose these seemingly Everypeople to inspire us intentionally. With an estimated 67 percent of Americans over the age of 20 considered overweight or obese (according to the National Center for Health Statistics), you’d hardly blame them for trying. Besides, they certainly are more believable than the already thin Kardashian sisters, or even other celeb spokeswomen such as Sarah “Can I sell you access to the Royal Family?” Ferguson and Jenny McCarthy, who started her career posing for Playboy. But is it working?

If we consider celebrity endorsements the most visible type of third party branding, the answer is yes. Writing for CNN in the wake of last year’s Tiger Woods sex scandal, Harvard Business School Associate Professor Anita Elberse argues that — even when they backfire — celebrity endorsements “generate considerable value.” In addition to tapping into new markets via said celebrity’s fan base, endorsements “trigger sales by reassuring consumers of the quality of the endorsed brand” and “convey important information about an attribute [of a product] that helps differentiate a brand from its competitors.” She goes on: “This is particularly helpful for attributes that are hard to explain, demonstrate, or measure.”

It would make sense, then, that weight-loss endorsements from Jason Alexander and Jennifer Hudson would capture our attention and our pocketbooks. For their parts, both have been blunt about the reasons for signing on: they want to look better. And isn’t that what we all want? Not our own perfume or reality show, or to pose for the cover of People magazine, but to look better, and, in turn, like the way we look? Feeling good about one’s self will always be a key motivator; it’s also a powerful sales driver. Tapping Alexander and Hudson sends a message that a certain kind of star power only goes so far. As consumers, we need better reasons to buy a product; these companies seem to get that we are an informed generation, just as likely to turn to our friends on Facebook for advice or information as we are print media or the television. By giving us celebs we can relate to, the message is clear: Stars: They’re more like us than we think.

I can buy that. Can you?

Brought to you by Vertical Marketing Network, a Leading Integrated Marketing Agency.
Photo credit: alancleaver_2000

About JJ Nelson

Freelance blogger for Vertical Marketing Network; food writer; bartender.

10 comments on “Stars: Are They Just Like Us?

  1. グッチ 時計
    July 5, 2013

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  2. Pingback: The Feel Good Takeaway. « Blogging Out Loud

  3. Cristina Vazquez
    July 7, 2010

    Certainly, having a celebrity spokesperson endorsing a brand does influence the consumer one way or another. However, I don’t think consumers can easily be convinced that if they choose a given product the results will be exactly as stated by the celebrity. For example, my favorite celeb product endorsements (which always make me laugh) are those shampoo brands that use a star with the most envious hair and claim that your hair can become lush, healthy, strong, with volume, hydrated, get rid of split ends and even make your hair grow faster…yes, just like a Hollywood star. I’m pretty sure many people out there are not 100% convinced that they will get the end results, but rather buy it simply because X celeb is the spokesperson.


  4. Amber
    July 7, 2010

    Cover Girl has made a huge statement by using Ellen and Queen Latifah as their spokes person. While both are beautiful, they were not known for their beauty. Queen Latifah is considered over weight (and in fact had a stint with Jenny Craig if I am not mistaken) and Ellen has never been considered glamorous. So were those endorsements to drawn attention or to prove that “our make-up can make even the average person look good”? Both I say, and it worked. As a female who wears make-up I have to admit that I am drawn to Cover Girl for not hiring the quintessential model. But not because I feel that I am average and need an average looking woman to justify how I look, but rather, I want to reward a company who is willing to make such a statement knocking down what the normal beauty is. I am not Angelina, but I do have confidence in my looks. I use Cover Girl for backing the “average” woman, much as I use Dove for the very same reason. I think hiring “average” celebrities goes beyond “hey they are just like me”. It forces you to look at the company with a more sympathetic view because they are using the underdog. I don’t think we look at ourselves as the underdog but rather we hate to see anyone get more than they deserve.

    Just another way to look at it.


  5. Jeff
    July 6, 2010

    Of course the flip side of all this celebrity aggrandizement is when the celebrity turns out to be a flawed human being just like the rest of us. Kirsty Ally and Tiger Woods are but the latest examples in a long list. The luster of celebrity borrowed interest rings very hollow when compared to a genuine marketable product quality.

    I agree with Nicco’s point that if the spokesperson is a real or perceived authority on the product or service they are promoting, then the endorsement resonates as real with the public. I really couldn’t care less what razor Roger Federer prefers, but I would be interested in what brand of tennis racket he favors.


  6. Danielle
    July 6, 2010

    Celebrity endorsements help establish a brand connection. In the case of the weight loss spokespeople, as a consumer I am rooting for them too! It’s human to have the voice in the back of your head saying, “Yeah, but they have trainers” etc but the Celebrity marketing model gives the brand a voice in a very real way. The approach rings true for the masses. The Elberse article JJ references claims sales “jumped an average of 4 percent in the six months following the start of an endorsement deal, even after controlling for advertising expenditures and other factors that could be expected to drive up sales” says the article while others have noticed 20% plus increases. I think the halo effect can be even more far reaching. A marketing colleague and I even very recently referenced “The Duchess” (as in Sarah Ferguson, Weight Watchers) in a weight loss reference statement (e.g. The Duchess would be proud). Somewhere along the line brand connections are made through celebrity endorsements– and so are sales.


  7. Nicco
    July 6, 2010

    The restaurant industry comes to mind for me. Guy Fieri, of Diner’s Drive-Ins and Dives and Guy’s Big Bite on the Food Network, is a great example of a celeb that appeals to male consumers because he really appears to be “one of the guys” on his shows and he makes food/cooking cool, fun, easy and delicious without the big expense. I go to restaurants featured on his show because I admire him, can relate to him, he enjoys eating as much as I do and his restaurant background and Big Bite show provide credibility that he knows what he is talking about.


    • JJ Nelson
      July 6, 2010

      Awesome feedback! Thank you!


  8. Nicco
    July 6, 2010

    Stars definitely grab the consumer’s attention and provide that point-of-difference on a brand in today’s cluttered world. And, when they are a logical and believable fit for the brand like some of the examples given above, it can really be a home run. I believe that you also must admire and trust the person providing the endorsement to really believe the message being delivered. It’s similar to a friend giving you a recommendation and being confident that they won’t steer you wrong.

    I have also seen another approach of endorsing products with people we can relate to and are more like us. All You Magazine, sold exclusively in Walmart and through subscriptions, focuses on being a brand resource for the everyday woman. This magazine prides itself on providing fashion, cooking, family and money saving tips that meet the needs of all women in any shape, size or financial bracket. This is a nice point-of-difference from many of the highly aspirational womens magazines, especially in today’s economic environment. For example, All You shows how a new style/look can be achieved at a low cost and features how it looks on women of different shapes and sizes. Basically telling women, no matter what your figure or income level is, you can still look good and not break the bank. The magazine also has a huge network of everyday women that provide input and feedback on the magazine to keep the content fresh and relevant. This is a great approach that has resulted in tremendous growth of the magazine over the last five years while many other publications going after the same target have gone belly up.


    • JJ Nelson
      July 6, 2010

      Thanks for the magazine tip, Nicco. I’ll definitely check it out.

      A thought, and a question: you write that celebrity endorsements that are believable and logical (such as the ones I describe) tend to be successful. I agree. But at the same time, I can admit to being a sucker for a product endorsed by a celebrity who was very much not like me, with the hopes of a little of that Hollywood magic rubbing off. I think there’s a fine line between convincing the consumer they, too, can “live the dream” and making the dream seem within reach. That’s certainly why magazines such as All You find success.

      I’m wondering if you can think of some campaigns where this has worked for you, as a male consumer? The first that comes to mind for me is cosmetics.



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