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The science behind celebrity endorsements

Celebrity endorsements have been shown to cause significant spikes in business for a given company. A celebrity’s endorsement generally causes a company’s sales increase an average of 4 percent relative to its competition—for some companies, that can mean millions of dollars.

So what is it about celebrities that makes their endorsements so appealing to consumers? As it turns out, it isn’t just about fame: There are some fascinating scientific facts behind why celebrity promotions are so successful.

Famous faces

Our brain has certain mechanisms for recognizing faces. This is crucial to our ability to survive, so that we can remember the faces of loved ones and beware the faces of our enemies. The brain is not always good, however, at distinguishing between the faces of the people from our real lives and the faces of people we see in the media. Therefore, when we see a celebrity, our brain often reacts in the same way it does when we see a friend. When a celebrity endorses a product, our brain sees the advertisement with the celebrity’s image and feels warm familiarity. Our minds then associate that with the product the celebrity is selling.

Entertainer expertise

An endorsement from a celebrity who is considered an authority on a certain subject can also prompt consumers to reach for a product. When we see someone with expertise in a certain area promote a product, our minds implicitly give more credence to its quality. This is a good example of why LeBron James’s campaigns for Nike are so successful—we see an amazing athlete who surely knows a lot about athletic gear endorse a certain sneaker, and trust the authority of his opinion.

Association inspiration

An endorsement from a supposedly high-quality celebrity will make a product seem high-quality through association. A celebrity who is known for sense of style, for example, may inspire consumers to buy a designer that she endorses through a desire to be associated with her. We often seek to emulate people on whom we wish to model ourselves.

Similarly, a celebrity who is unpopular or controversial can make a product seem undesirable for the same reason. Hence the motivation for many brands to drop a celebrity like a hot potato if he or she dips in popularity or has a scandal.

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