Celebrities have been endorsing brands since the middle of the 20th century through traditional means of advertising such as television, radio, and print. With the rise of social media and especially Twitter, these celebrity endorsements take an interesting turn. Because of this, people have taken a great interest in the relationship between celebrity endorsements on Twitter and consumers’ attitudes and behaviors toward a brand or product. We will be focusing on the study “Following Celebrities’ Tweets About Brands: The Impact of Twitter-Based Electronic Word-of-Mouth on Consumers’ Source Credibility Perception, Buying Intention, and Social Identification with Celebrities” by Seung-A Annie Jin and Joe Phua. In short, this article examines the relationship between celebrities’ tweets and consumers’ attitudes toward a brand and desire to spread the celebrities’ opinions.
A celebrity endorser is defined as “any individual who enjoys public recognition and who uses this recognition on behalf of a consumer good” by either using the product, recommending it, or merely appearing with it (Jin and Phua 182). As Goldman and Papson state in “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning,” a commodity sign “is formed at the intersection between a brand name and a meaning system summarized in an image” (82). In context, celebrities are seen as commodity signs and when they endorse a product, the meaning developed around the celebrity transfers to the brand. Advertisers seek out celebrities because they have a large amount of social capital. Social capital, a term coined by Bourdieu, is people’s networks and relationships, something that is made very visible on social media, through number of friends and followers. Celebrities are usually, but not always, paid for endorsing brands. Examples include Britney Spears appearing in the Pepsi ad campaigns in the 2000s, Kirstie Alley supporting Jenny Craig in print campaigns, and even Justin Bieber tweeting about 1-800-Flowers.
Social media is an attractive medium to advertisers when it comes to celebrity endorsements. Twitter alone has over 600 million registered users, many of whom are part of the coveted teen and young adult market segments (“Twitter Statistics”). Additionally, social media allows users to easily state their opinions about brands and share those opinions with many people, thus facilitating electronic word-of-mouth (eWoM). The term eWoM refers to “any positive or negative statement made by potential, actual, or former customers about a product or company, which is made available to a multitude of people and institutions via the Internet” (181). Twitter specifically makes celebrities seem more relatable. As Jin and Phua argue, “Celebrities who tweet about brands and products on Twitter are often seen by their followers as fellow social media users, whether or not they are official brand endorsers; therefore, their eWoM about these brands are seen as more credible and trustworthy than if they had appeared in television or print advertisements for the same brands” (183). Twitter enables consumers and celebrities to tweet about similar things and blurs the line between them and us. For example, we can tweet “I love Smart Water” and so can Justin Bieber, which makes his tweet appear more honest and relatable.
Jin and Phua’s research focused on the potential of Twitter as a medium to facilitate eWoM about a product. In their study, they performed two experiments, both in which they create fake celebrities’ Twitter pages that say either positive or negative things about a product. The first experiment measured the effect of the number of Twitter followers on the perceived source credibility, or whether or not it matters to consumers how many followers a celebrity has when tweeting about a brand. Participants viewed a Twitter page of “celebrity” David Kerr, either with a high or low number of followers tweeting positively or negatively about Bling H2O or Oval Vodka. After viewing the pages, the groups had to fill out a questionnaire, agreeing or disagreeing with statements such as, “I think David Kerr could be my Twitter friend” and “I am willing to spread David Kerr’s product review via my Twitter page” (Jin and Phua 186).
Experiment 2 measured the interaction between the type of celebrity and the popularity of a product. Instead of number of followers, the variable was whether a celebrity was prosocial or antisocial. Prosocial celebrities’ images convey things such as charitable contributions, while antisocial celebrities are related to more negative actions such as substance abuse. Jin and Phua aimed to discover if negative information about a celebrity negatively influenced one’s willingness to share the eWoM about a brand. In Experiment 2, groups of people viewed a Twitter page for “celebrity” Victoria Kerr after having read either a positive article about her philanthropic work or a negative article about her drug abuse and adultery. These Twitter pages included either negative or positive tweets about Bling H2O. Participants then filled out an online questionnaire similar to Experiment 1.
The results of these experiments are intriguing. As expected, when it comes to positive reviews about a product, consumers view prosocial celebrities with higher social capital as being more trustworthy. Consumers tend to want to share prosocial celebrities with more followers’ tweets if the tweets positively endorse a brand. However, when a celebrity tweets negatively about a product, it is those celebrities with fewer followers in which consumers are more interested. The participants on average said they feel most compelled to share less popular celebrities’ negative tweets about a brand. Jin and Phua attribute this to the fact that popular celebrities have a higher reach and consumers feel that it is futile to share their opinions because so many people have already seen them. If the celebrity is tweeting negatively about a product, consumers deem both prosocial and antisocial celebrities’ tweets as credible and worthy of being shared, especially if they do not have many followers.
Advertisers are using celebrity Twitter pages to endorse brands everyday. One example of this is Midori Liqueur and Kim Kardashian. Kim originally became famous for a sex taped that was leaked, placing her into the category of antisocial celebrity. However, after changing her image to become a prosocial celebrity, by working with nonprofits such as The Dream Foundation and owning her own clothing line, she has become someone who brands desire to use as an endorser, especially on Twitter. From 2011 to 2013, Kim was the Midori Liqueur spokesperson, supporting the product through television commercials, events, and even tweets.
Another example of a celebrity endorsement on Twitter is Justin Bieber and 1-800-Flowers. On Mother’s Day in 2013, Bieber tweeted positively about 1-800-Flowers. This was around the same time that he was quoted saying that Anne Frank would have been a “Belieber” and also around the time when narcotics were found in his tour bus, proving him to be an antisocial celebrity. Applying the logic of the study to our examples, although both celebrities have a high number of Twitter followers, Midori made the better choice since Kardashian is the more prosocial celebrity.
Celebrities also often tweet negatively about brands. An example of this is Richard Branson’s recent tweet about Dorchester Hotels, in which he states he is boycotting the luxury hotel chain. This tweet was retweeted 2,100 times, which is a very significant number, especially because he comparably does not have as many followers as Bieber (51 million) or Kardashian (21 million). This proves that consumers generally feel obliged to share negative tweets about a product (Richard Branson has 4 million followers).
The Jin and Phua study demonstrates that Twitter is indeed a viable medium for linking celebrities to brands due to its ability to spread opinions, especially those of celebrities with high social capital. Advertisers can use this study to better predict what types of celebrities would be best for endorsing brands on Twitter. Moreover, this study was reminiscent of the impact celebrities can have on cause-related marketing campaigns, through raising awareness and encouraging greater consumer participation on Twitter. Since celebrities have the power to influence purchasing decisions, they can use this power to motivate people to engage in ethical consumption.
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Emerson, Ramona. “Twitter Celebrity Endorsements Are Big Business For Stars And Companies.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 03 Nov. 2011. Web. 29 Apr. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/03/celebrity-twitter-endorsements_n_1073577.html>.
Jin, Seung-A Annie, and Joe Phua. “Following Celebrities’ Tweets About Brands: The Impact of Twitter-Based Electronic Word-of-Mouth on Consumers’ Source Credibility Perception, Buying Intention, and Social Identification With Celebrities.” Journal of Advertising 43.2 (2014): 181-95. Print.
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-Natalia Karavasili and Alyssa Snyder