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The Efficacy of Celebrity Endorsements for Charitable Causes: an Experiment on Consumers’ Purchase Intentions Toward Charity-Linked Products

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The Efficacy of Celebrity Endorsements for Charitable Causes:
An Experiment on Consumers’ Purchase Intentions Toward Charity-linked Products
Celebrity endorsement has been a prominent practice in marketing for years (Money, Shimp, & Sakano, 2006). Approximately twenty percent of all advertisements worldwide use celebrity endorsements (Shimp & Andrews, 2013). In the United States alone, the use of celebrity endorsers in advertisements has increased from 10 percent to 25 percent over the last decade, and the number is even higher in markets such as India (24 percent), and Taiwan (45 percent) (Crutchfield, 2010). The general belief among practitioners and scholars is that products or brands endorsed by celebrities appear to offer a higher degree of appeal, attention, and enhanced message recall than those without celebrity affiliation (Toncar, Reid, & Anderson, 2007). Agrawal and Kamalura (1995) contended that the impact of celebrity endorsements on stock returns was positive, and suggested that celebrity endorsements were worthwhile investments in the commercial context.
Celebrity endorsement is also gathering increasing momentum in attempts to develop public awareness of charitable causes. For example, a growing number of celebrities have become involved in heightening public awareness of poverty in low-income countries (Samman, Auliffe, and MacLachlan, 2009). More recently, even more celebrities around the world have taken on the Ice Bucket Challenge, dousing themselves with ice water to raise awareness and funds for the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The Ice Bucket Challenge has been such an epic success through social media outreach that raised an estimated $15 million to fight the disease in just a few weeks (Smith, 2014).
There has been an increased research interest concerned in investigating the impact of celebrity on charitable causes; however, the findings are conflicting. Some studies have reported that celebrity endorsement have a substantial impact on charitable donations, as it offers an unprecedented reach to a much wider audience. For example, a Rutgers School of Business study (Smith, 2014), which relied on statistical analysis of the fund-raising campaigns of five hundred charities and aid organizations, found charities with celebrity endorsers enjoyed an average 1.4 percent improvement in donations over those without celebrity affiliation, and were also able to reduce overheads and promotional expenses by 1.9 percent owing to the free publicity generated by linking a celebrity with the cause. Conversely, two recent surveys by British academics found that celebrity involvement with charities was generally ineffective at raising public awareness of the causes. In fact, people were more likely to support a cause because of personal or family connections than celebrity promotion (Dugan, 2014).
The contradictory findings have motivated the present study, which explores people’ perceptions of charitable work associated with celebrities, and investigates whether people will state a preference for charity-linked products endorsed by a celebrity using an experiment survey. The study analyzes participants’ attitudes toward a print advertisement featuring Anne Hathaway, an internationally known actress, wearing Gap’s (2 WEEKS) T-shirt in 2007. Participants were informed that half the profits from the sales of the T-shirt would go directly to the Global Fund to support relief from AIDS in Africa (Gap, 2007).
Method
Participants Nighty-seven participants took part in the study (40 males and 57 females). The majority of participants (77.3%) were aged between 19 to 29 years old. Participants primarily used social media such as Facebook or WeChat to access the study. Additional participants were obtained via an e-mail sent to the researchers’ friends and family members. Both social media posts and e-mails explained the purpose of the study and asked recipients to participate. Most participants were Asian (56.7%) and Caucasian (34.0%).
Materials and Procedure
An online experiment was used to collect data from December 6, 2014 until December 8, 2014. The independent variable was a celebrity endorser (present vs. absent) on a print advertisement. The dependent variables consisted of fifteen questions. The dependent variables were divided in four sections: the participant’s attitude toward the advertisement, purchase intention of the charity-linked product, awareness of the celebrity, and demographic information (sex, age, etc.). The first section, attitude toward the advertisement, assessed the participant’s general view of the advertisement. An example question from this section was “I find this advertisement impressive”. The next section examined the participant’s purchase intention of the charity-linked product after seeing the advertisement, and an example question from this section was “Would you buy a T-shirt after seeing this advertisement”. The third section evaluated the participant’s awareness of the celebrity. An example question from this section was “Do you know the celebrity person in the advertisement”. The last section recorded the participant’s demographic information.
The majority of questions were answered via a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” The remaining questions used multiple choices.
Results
Participants were randomly assigned to view one of two identical print advertisements, with the only difference being the presence of the celebrity endorser, namely, Anne Hathaway. The group that viewed the advertisement with the presence of Hathaway was referred to as Group A, whereas the other group was referred to Group B throughout this study for easy reference.
The majority of participants had a mildly positive attitude toward the advertisements, impressiveness (M = 3.14, SD = 1.02), likability (M = 3.25, SD = .89). An independent-sample t test was conducted to evaluate if the presence of the celebrity endorser affected participants’ perceived impressiveness of the advertisement. The test was non-significant, t(91) = .26, p = .794, although there was a tendency for Group A (M = 3.17, SD = .93) to in general perceive the advertisement as more impressive than Group B (M = 3.11, SD = 1.11). Similarly, an independent-sample t test was conducted to evaluate if the presence of the celebrity endorser affected the likability of the advertisement. The test was non-significant, t(91) = .96, p = .340, although there was a tendency for Group A (M = 3.33, SD = .81) to in general like the advertisement better than Group B did (M = 3.16, SD = .98).
More than half of the participants (55.2%) reported that they would not explore further information related to the cause. The difference between the two groups was not significant as tested with an independent-sample t test, t(94) = -.12, p = .904, although there was a tendency for Group B (M = 2.53, SD = .99) to in general be more likely to explore the cause than Group A (M = 2.51, SD = .93).
One-tenth of the participants (10.6%) would buy a T-shirt after viewing the advertisement. There was a tendency for participants in Group B to be more likely to make a purchase as tested with a chi-squared test. However, this difference was statistically non-significant, χ² (2) = 3.00, p = .223. To extend the findings to the entire charity-linked product category, an independent-sample t test was thus performed to evaluate if the presence of a celebrity endorser affected participants’ purchase intentions for charity-linked products in general. The test was non-significant, t(95) = .35, p = .727, although there was a tendency for Group A (M = 3.12, SD = .97) to in general be more likely to buy celebrity-endorsed products than Group B (M = 3.04, SD = 1.12).
Discussions
While the participants surveyed for this study had a general positive attitude toward the advertisements, the presence of a celebrity endorser in the advertisements had no significant effect on either attitudes toward the advertisement or purchase intentions among participants. Participants hardly reported taking any concrete action, e.g. explore the cause or make a purchase, to support the cause as a result of celebrity influence. In other words, the results contradict to the expectation that celebrity involvement in a cause would help raise awareness or donations for the cause.
The reason why celebrity endorsement only has a moderate influence within the charitable context might due to public’s perception of how genuine celebrities are. While celebrities are expected to help raise the profile of a cause, often times it is the celebrities themselves that tend to gain the most attention, and benefit the most from the exposure, in terms of improved public images (Smith, 2014). Even if celebrities do not intend to promote their own work with a charitable presence, they inevitably do earn promotional opportunities, and this might be discouraging people from charitable giving (Williams, 2014).
The results have valuable implications for charities. Despite the appeal that a celebrity endorser might bring to a cause, charities should not expect to engage the public by simply linking to a famous name. An appropriate celebrity endorser, who shares a solid connection with both the cause and its target audience, may open up the door to arouse public interest. More importantly, charities should learn to craft and deliver the compelling messages that engage the public emotionally, in order to sustain public interest in the long run (Munro, 2014).
Still, some limitations of this study must be noted. First, the results are drawn from a small sample, the majority of which are college students, and therefore are of questionable generalizability. Second, the effects observed in the study are based on one particular advertisement featuring one specific celebrity endorser, which might further limit the generalizability of the results. Future studies should implement appropriate sampling measures to increase the variety of participants, and expand the research rationale by analyzing a substantial sample.
References
Agrawal, J., & Kamakura, W. A. (1995). The economic worth of celebrity endorsers: An event study analysis. Journal of Marketing, 59(3), 56-62.
Crutchfield, D. (2010, September 22). Celebrity endorsements still push product. Retrieved from http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/marketing-celebrity-endorsements-push-product/146023
Dugan, E. (2014, August 7). The good causes of the famous “benefit themselves more than the charities”. Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/celebrities-good-causes-benefit-themselves-more-than-the-charities-9655350.html
Gap. (2007, October 3). Gap introduces inspirational marketing campaign to celebrate first anniversary of global launch of Gap (Product) Red. Retrieved from http://www.gapinc.com/content/gapinc/html/media/pressrelease/2007/med_pr_REDmarketing100307.html
Money, R. B., Shimp, T. A., & Sakano, T. (2006). Celebrity endorsements in Japan and the United States: is negative information all that harmful? Journal of Advertising Research, 46(1), 113-121.
Munro, G. (2014, August 11). The expert view: Is celebrity endorsement a waste of time for charities? Retrieved from http://www.prweek.com/article/1307305/expert-view-celebrity-endorsement-waste-time-charities
Samman, E., Auliffe, E. M., & MacLachlan, M. (2009). The role of celebrity in endorsing poverty reduction through international aid. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, 14(2), 137-148.
Shimp, T. A., & Andrews, J. C. (2013). Advertising, promotion, and other aspects of integrated marketing communications (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Smith, R. (2014, August 20). The Ice Bucket Challenge and other good causes: Do stars really help? Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/goatsandsoda/2014/08/20/340352070/the-ice-bucket-challenge-and-other-good-causes-do-stars-really-help
Toncar, M., Reid, J. S., & Anderson, C. E. (2007). Effective spokespersons in a public service announcement: National celebrities, local celebrities and victims. Journal of Communication Management, 11(3), 258-275.
Williams, S. (2014, August 14). Celebrity charity advocacy: Does it really help? Retrieved from http://www.care2.com/causes/celebrity-charity-advocacy-does-it-really-help.html

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