Behind the Scenes of Celebrity Endorsements

Nov 27, 2023 | Aging Successfully

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George Forman Celebrity EndorsementI hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving holiday. Did you sample any fudge? Fear, uncertainty, doubt, guilt, and exhaustion. See my previous blog for more on that. 

Today, we’re talking about celebrity endorsements. As you know, we see a lot of endorsements by famous people relative to products, drugs, apparatuses, or insurance enrollment. Did you ever give all that any thought? 

As a patient advocate, I watch advertising closely, as I want to see what people will fall for and what they will buy (pun intended). I’m looking at the ways the products are presented to consumers, especially when it is healthcare related. 

The world of advertising is fascinating, but when it comes to medical items, services or pharmaceuticals, I want to make sure that I and others all have good information. Celebrities make a lot of money with endorsements and the work should be right. Sometimes celebrities become an important face of a disease or treatment, which can be good; however, when I see some of these advertisements, I have to wonder if the celebrities themselves have ever used the product, what the association is, and what are the rules around all this.

What is celebrity endorsement?
Celebrity endorsement is a marketing strategy that uses a celebrity’s fame and image to promote a brand or product. Other use cases include not-for-profit organizations that leverage a celebrity’s fame to raise awareness or funding around a cause. An example of that has been Michael J. Fox and his Foundation for Parkinson’s Research

Why are we talking about this?
As a patient advocate, I want to make sure that any healthcare education is on the up and up. So does the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). We’ll get to them in a minute.

Join me right now as we pull back the curtains a little bit and look at this kind of advertising, one that has an impact on healthcare and our own behavior or response. My intent here is not to dissuade you from watching those fun TV commercials. Quite the opposite. Just know that there are pros and cons to this kind of advertising.

We all have personal choice as to the information we consume and how we respond. I am encouraging you, as I would do in my patient advocacy practice, to think differently. Have our eyes wide open. But I do enjoy having a little fun as I learn about everything involving healthcare and the consumer.

3 types of Celebrity Endorsements:
The most common is probably the traditional television or print commercial. In these, the celebrity appears on camera or in print, often alongside the product they are endorsing. This type of endorsement is usually very direct, with the celebrity saying something like, “I’m Susie Queue, and I use X product.”

The second kind of celeb endorsement is what’s known as a “lifestyle” endorsement. In these, the celebrity doesn’t necessarily appear directly with the product but instead endorses it through their lifestyle choices. For example, if someone famous is regularly seen wearing a particular brand of shoe, that can be considered a lifestyle endorsement.

The third is through some form of social media posts. Here, celebrities simply mention a product in a post or even give it a positive review. These types of endorsements can be particularly effective since they reach such a wide audience and feel more personal than traditional commercials.

Let’s clear the obvious question: How much do they make?
It may be safe to say that we can start in the millions. There are (and when you think about it) too many celebrities to name, and the numbers will have your eyes rolling. For example, Sofia Vergara signed deals with Pepsi, Head & Shoulders, and Quaker Oats, among others, back in 2011 worth a reported $94.5 million.

Among the highest endorsements have been George Foreman’s deal with Salton Inc., which was worth over USD 138 million, and Tiger Woods’ deal with Nike, which netted him $100 million, are some of the most highly paid endorsements.  I wonder, if your endorsement deal is only 5 million, do your peers disdain you? Is your star power diminished?

It seems like athlete Steph Curry is everywhere these days (Subway, Under Armour). In his deal with Under Armour, Curry gets to design his own signature basketball shoe line, which has become a major hit for the brand. But it’s not just about the shoes. Curry also gets stock options from the company, tethering his success to the company’s.

When did all this begin?
Was it Gatorade or Wheaties cereal? No, earlier than that, but sports has always been a prime spot for finding endorsers. Using celebrities and athletes to promote brands has been around for centuries. The gladiators in Rome were commissioned to endorse brands of olive oil. In the early 1900s sports stars like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Cy Young were used heavily as endorsers by the various tobacco companies. Those “co-branding” styles of endorsement were all done in the exact manner that the George Foreman Grill was done hundreds of years later.

Why should we pay attention or even care?
Why should we pay attention or even care? Isn’t it good to see familiar faces (or our old friends, stars of days gone by) or learn about a new product or remedy?  

I believe that we should care because we consumers are gulli-, er, and easily impressed. We take things at face value all too often. We take this “seeing is believing”-thing a bit too far. That must be akin to that incorrect conclusion that  “I found it on the internet, so it must be true” -line of thinking.

Celebrity endorsement carries pros and cons
As with most things in healthcare and in life, there are pros and cons.

The Pros

If you’re the celebrity: The obvious one is substantial income. Success. Recognition. The furthering of your celebrity status.

if you are an advertising outfit: Seems they are buying or putting forth trust in attachment with the product or service. Recognition. Investment or gamble?

If you are the consumer: There are some benefits from healthcare education in terms of increased healthcare literacy. Learning about a condition may help “normalize” a diagnosis and sometimes lessen any stigma attached. 

The Cons

If you’re the celebrity: 

A celebrity could spread him or herself too thin with multiple endorsements (and all that money!). Their credibility could suffer, watering down their “brand”; they may appear as frivolously hawking or “selling out” for the money.  And it must be a tricky balancing act for celebs: can this kind of thing be sustainable? How does one keep going up, up, up?

If you are an advertising outfit: First, it’s expensive! There is risk of your celebrity falling from grace. One example is Tiger Woods’ highly publicized infidelity in 2009 reportedly cost Nike $1.7 million in sales and 105,000 customers. I feel certain, however, that Nike has no regrets about signing with Michael Jordan in 1984 for what was then a five-year deal worth $500,000 a year. But according to Forbes, Adidas may lose $650 million after dropping Kanye’s Yeezy Line.  There is also another risk angle: The brand can become overshadowed by the celebrity, meaning if a celebrity is endorsing multiple products at the same time, they might see the celebrity and associate it with another brand.

If you are the consumer:  To me, that con is If we as consumers blindly follow.  All that someone in a commercial has to say, to be truthful, celebs or not, is that “Product X works for me.” “For me” is likely not a false statement. 

Many of the drugs, still name brand, remain under patent and are thus expensive.  Even when sought and prescribed, many consumers discover that the price may be too expensive to get in the first place or to sustain. We might then avoid or discontinue treatment. Not good.

It is my opinion (and only that, an opinion) that we need to take a look at this endorsement intersection – the one where there is a chance that someone we admire or recognize as having the respect of others might influence us. Is that sound, or is that right for me? 

More about endorsements, what they entail, and what we should know.

It is likely that endorsements as a form of advertising will continue. We see no signs of this slowing down. 

I believe there could be prevailing benefits as far as healthcare is concerned (and you know, as a patient advocate, I am going to feel good about that). We are left with some positive impact. Some celebs have helped us to be more aware of Covid precautions and treatments, and helped us to know there were vaccines available. 

Just look what celebs as spokespersons have done to encourage folks to seek treatment for mental health challenges, thereby normalizing that they are medical conditions, and that seeking help for them is A-OK.

Where things begin to get a little murky is when we here in mainstream America begin to associate the product or pill with good feelings brought about by the endorser – who is famous, after all, and so they must know what they are talking about, right? If they are successful, then we, too, could be.

What are the ethics involved in eliciting those good feelings? Ads are designed to elicit joy, humor, reverence, and other feelings, so (how) do we trust all that we consume?

We can live in blissful ignorance about this kind of advertising (but at this point in this post, you may be getting the idea that you and I are way beyond just that). 

Or, we can engage in study, thought, and friendly debate.

Who’s minding the store, asks this patient advocate about healthcare products? 

The FTC and the FDA collaborate on this. 

The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) provides guidance and enforcement regarding endorsements and other social media marketing the FTC considers to be deceptive. Information must be disclosed; hence, we get all those messages about reactions and disturbances that we might encounter. 

My personal favorite: ”and death has occurred,” being read in a low voice while we are being distracted with imagery (sports, dogs, butterflies, kayaks, people riding scooters through towns and gathering for barbeques). When delivered in print, well, I didn’t know font sizes could go that low.

I tried, but I could not easily locate a sample disclaimer script to rattle off to you here, so look and listen carefully the next time one of these kinds of advertisements presents to determine what and how this information is disclosed (meaning font size, or color, or volume – and distraction). 

Now, I am not suggesting that we put some advertising professionals out of business, the ones that write all the disclaimers and do all the voiceovers…). Those have grown to become art forms!

The FDA, as we know the Food and Drug Administration, focuses on product research and safety. 

So, as far as these celebrity endorsements go, the two work together with a particular focus on the disclosure of material connections, disclosure of typical results, and alignment between testimonials and imagery.

All are responsible: product makers, advertisers, and the celebrities. They all can be responsible for the content they are putting out and how they do that.

Part of me wonders if the guidelines or regulations require that the celebrity read the disclaimers themselves as part of their preparation. If so, I’d also wonder if what they review would have an effect on them since today, we are talking about their effect upon us.

We, too, as consumers are responsible, I think, to be able to consume this advertising as just that: advertising.

What I am getting at is that we all have the opportunity here to think critically to the level we wish. It might be light, as in “good to see ol’ Joe Namath and what he looks like nowadays”. Or, it might be more critical, as in, “Did that ad just say that the product to arrest diarrhea might have a side effect of diarrhea?”

We, as consumers, should become aware of the power of celebrity endorsements and the effect they can have on us and our behavior. I like to encourage folks to become more analytical in how they consume media, especially when it comes to healthcare.

The words, images, and likenesses you have before you are for your voluntary digestion. I am not a celebrity, but I play one on YouTube. The opinions depressed here today are just that and are meant for thought-provoking purposes only. They are not intended to throw any product or celebrity under the bus. What you are voluntarily choosing to consume is meant to provoke thought and for the purpose of helping you to move more comfortably forward in life.

Caring about your care, Nancy Ruffner is a patient advocate, consultant, and coach who focuses on healthcare navigation, eldercare, successful aging, and Solo Aging. Offering Complimentary Consultations toward engagement, schedule yours today!