[STUDY] Does celebrity endorsement work?

Celebrity endorsements have been part of advertising ever since the beginning of the profession. Athletes, musicians, actors and actresses, politicians, and other professionals have a tremendous amount of power and reach in persuading consumers. Research has shown, time and again, that using celebrities in advertisement increases sales of the product being advertised. Even though we know the celebrity is being paid to promote a product,we buy it anyway because we trust her implicitly. And, even if we don’t, we do know who she is, so there is immediate brand recognition.

The cultural norm is different in non-profits, though. Can you imagine finding out that a celebrity is being compensated to ask you to send money to a non-profit? No, while celebrity endorsements may work well for non-profits, they probably work in a different way than they do for businesses. The article below addresses what NPOs (Non-Profit Organizations) must expect in order for celebrity endorsements to work in that sector.

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is the whole trend online toward influencer marketing. Brands are now attempting to harness the power of digital personalities to promote their products. I suspect that the culture norms for being influenced in social media fall somewhere in between those of traditional for-profit celebrity endorsements and those of NPO celebrity endorsements. In other words, I don’t think we expect the same level of altruism when a social media personality endorses a product on Twitter as we do when a celebrity endorses a non-profit. However, if we find out that the social media personality has been compensated to promote a product to his Twitter followers, it does leave a bad taste in our mouths. In my mind, this study has tremendous implications for the digital space as well as the traditional.


De Los Salmones, M., Dominguez, R., & Herrero, A. (2013). Communication using celebrities in the non-profit sector: Determinants of its effectivenessInternational Journal Of Advertising32(1), 101-119.

Maria del Mar Garcia de los Salmones, Rafael Dominguez, and Angel Herrero of the University of Cantabria seek to explain when celebrity endorsements work for non-profits and when they do not. The authors use an accepted framework, the notion that the source credibility (broken into two parts, expertise and trustworthiness) is what determines the level of influence in an advertisement, to build a series of nine hypotheses that address the question:

  1. Higher celebrity credibility will be positively correlated with the attitude toward the advertisement.
  2. Higher credibility of the organization will be positively correlated with the attitude toward the advertisement.
  3. Higher perceived fit of the celebrity with the social cause will be positively correlated with the attitude toward the advertisement.
  4. Higher attribution of pure motives to the celebrity will be positively correlated with the attitude toward the advertisement.
  5. Higher perceived fit of the celebrity with the social cause will be positively correlated with attribution of pure motives to the celebrity.
  6. Higher attitude toward the celebrity will be positively correlated with the perceived fit of the celebrity with the social cause.
  7. Higher acceptance of the practice of celebrity endorsements in social causes will be positively correlated with the perceived fit of the celebrity with the social cause.
  8. Higher attitude toward the advertisement will be positively correlated with behavioral intentions.
  9. Higher credibility of the organization will be positively correlated with behavior intentions.


To test their hypotheses, the researches conducted a survey based upon perceptions of a fictitious advertisement involving a real celebrity and a real organization. The researchers selected UNICEF as the organization in the study, due to its global brand awareness. After a series of pretests, two different celebrities were chosen to represent the organization: Pau Gasol and Penelope Cruz. The researchers then used graphic designers to draw up two identical advertisements for UNICEF, with the only difference being the celebrity superimposed on the advertisement. A total of 329 Spanish people over the age of 18 were shown the two advertisements, with 162 being shown the UNICEF-Pau Gasol combination and 169 being shown the UNICEF-Penelope Cruz combination.

Upon viewing the advertisements, the participants were given a questionnaire composed of twenty questions and assessing the following items:

  • Previous history with UNICEF
  • Awareness of the celebrity and the organization
  • Opinion of the advertisement, the celebrity, and the organization
  • The perceived fit of the celebrity with the social cause
  • How the participants felt about the celebrity’s motivations
  • The behavioral intentions of the participants (donate or not)
  • Personality traits
  • Demographic characteristics

Upon completing the survey, all 9 hypotheses were found to be supported. For practical purposes, the following 6 best-practices can be used by NPOs when selecting celebrity partnerships.


  1. Use a celebrity with high credibility (has expertise and is trustworthy).
  2. Have a high level of credibility as an organization.
  3. Use a celebrity who is a good fit with the social cause.
  4. Use a celebrity who authentically believes in the social cause.
  5. Use a celebrity who is admired by your target audience.
  6. Use a celebrity only if your audience finds the use of celebrities in advertising to be an acceptable practice.


If you are involved in a non-profit organization or social cause, this research is directly relevant. The heart of the question, I think, is not about celebrities. It’s about the people you choose to represent your organizationThe distinction between celebrity and non-celebrity, especially given the democratized communication landscape of the web, is a false dichotomy. Everyone has a certain level of celebrity. Even if your organization is not as large as UNICEF and even if you operate locally, I still think the results of this study will hold. The “celebrity” doesn’t have to be someone who is internationally-known. She only has to be someone who is well-known within the context of your target audience. Local celebrities are still celebrities.

Beyond non-profits, though, I think this study has an increasing level of relevance for celebrity endorsements of businesses and their products. As more and more companies invest in social good and incorporate altruistic agendas as part of their core operations, the line between for-profit and non-profit is beginning to blur. Even if your organization does not concern itself much with social issues, I still suspect the increasing expectation of the public is that you do. Therefore, if you are going to pick a person to endorse your product, you may want to stick as closely to these criteria as you can.

Given that, with the ease of building a platform provided by the Internet, more and more people are achieving some level of “celebrity” status (whether that means Twitter followers, YouTube subscribers, or blog readers), this research is also important for influencers. People who are building platforms online and off must be aware of the expectations people have of them when they form allegiances with organizations. Do you have the necessary credibility to speak with authority about a social cause? Are you and the organization you are endorsing a natural fit? Do you really believe in what you’re supporting…or are you just supporting the cause for your own personal gain? You might want to consider these things before throwing your endorsement out to any old cause that requests it.


  1. Does this research apply to the influence that people have over consumers (non-profit or for-profit) in the digital space?
  2. Does this research hold in other cultures? The Americas? Other European countries? Eastern cultures?
  3. What influence do children have over their parents’ affinity toward celebrity-NPO combinations?
  4. Is there any relationship in the level of influence between the perceived “masculinity” or “femininity” of a social cause and the gender of the celebrity chosen to represent it?

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