You’ve seen them all over the place. Advertisements with nothing but a celebrity and a product, like Tiger Woods for Tag Heuer watches (a few months ago, anyway) or Jennifer Aniston for Smartwater.
There is no point to the ads, no overwhelming themes we are supposed to come away with, and yet, advertising companies are convinced that by simply pairing a celebrity with a product, we will want it.
Are they right?
Yes, according to a joint study conducted by the Rotterdam School of Management and Donders Institute for the Brain, both in the Netherlands.
Past research had already shown that simply by pairing a well known celeb with a product, people will be more likely to recall the advertisement, even if it was around years and years before.
Example: “Better eat your Wheaties” – tell me you don’t remember who said that.
The present study sought to find the neurological underpinnings of our attraction to celeb-endorsed products.
To test our brain’s reaction to celebrity associations, 24 women were given fMRI scans as they were told to look at 40 color photographs of women wearing high-end shoes.
In the set of test photos, some of the women were famous and some were unknowns.
After testing all of the women and dissecting the scans, the team discovered that there was a difference in the reaction of the brain when exposed to the celebrity versus the non-celebrity.
It turns out the medial oribitofrontal cortex lit up more when exposed to a celebrity than to the plain Jane.
This is the section of the brain responsible for feeling affection.
The Affection Transfer
Does this feeling of affection transfer to an endorsed product?
The folks behind this research project say yes!
They believe that because the brain showed more activity in the parts related to semantic and episodic retrieval tasks, that: “the perception of a celebrity face results in the retrieval of explicit memories.”
Let’s continue with Jennifer Aniston as an example.
Jennifer Aniston was in Friends, and odds are that at some point, you watched Friends with some of your own friends, and happy memories were created at that time.
Your love of that memory is now connected to your memory of Jennifer Aniston. If you like the memories, you like the celebrity, and therefore you like the product.
Friends àJennifer AnistonàSmartwater.
This study is very encouraging for advertisers using celebrities. However, they still do not establish a real link between the transfers of all these positive recollections to the products in question. I would like to see them test the shoes worn by celebrities versus the shoes worn by non celebrities – then we would have something a little more direct!
Interesting note – some people are even interested in the concept of the celeb endorsement itself. When we were researching this article, we came across thousands of sites about ‘odd celebrity endorsements’ or ‘bad celebrity endorsements’ of embarrassing products.
Even the concept of celebs plugging goods is enough to garner an entire blog, can you believe it? Looks like our obsession is here to stay.
Check out this site, http://www.oddee.com/item_96843.aspx, which offers the 10 Strangest Celeb Endorsements – OJ Simpson and Hertz? Joe Namath and pantyhose? If that site does not fufill your celebrity desiring needs, just google it, there are thousands more…
Stallen, M. et al. “Celebrities and Shoes on The Female Brain: The Nueral Correlates of Product Evaluation in The Context of Fame.” Journal of Economic Psychology. Spring 2010, p 2-9.