If recognized, celebrities tend to attract attention. People get excited in their presence and flock to them for an opportunity to connect with them, either with an autograph, a photo, or just a chance to say “hello.” Thus it has become popular belief that advertisements with celebrity endorsements will generate similar levels of attention and enthusiasm (2). The tobacco industry has been actively utilizing this strategy by recruiting big names from across disciplines, including TV, movies, sports, science, and politics. Lucille Ball from “I Love Lucy” was the face of Philip Morris in the 50s, Ronald Reagan claimed Chesterfield was a favorite, and numerous Olympic athletes apparently smoked Camels “for its mildness.” Antismoking campaigns must counter the tobacco industry’s moves, and so they use celebrities to enhance the delivery of their anti-smoking messages as well.
Anti-smoking campaigns use celebrities from a variety of fields to connect with a wide audience and deliver many different anti-smoking messages, from secondhand smoke to social acceptance to diseases. Beautiful models and actresses are often photo-shopped or made to look ridiculous to prove that smoking can taint the appeal of even the most beautiful people. In other ads, celebrities embrace that they are smoke-free and encourage their audience to follow their lead. They are proof that one can be successful and attractive without the influence of cigarettes. There are also the personal testimonials, in which celebrities who used to smoke have now quit for various reasons, such as the death of a loved one or for personal health reasons. Some of these themes have been shown to be effective on their own, and some not quite. The big question, however, is whether the message has a larger impact when a prominent person is presenting it.
The CDC advises using celebrities with caution in anti-smoking campaigns, but a recent study by Ace Metrix indicates that products actually do not benefit from celebrity endorsements (1), and often they even have a negative impact (4). An obvious advantage to the use of celebrities is that they draws attention, which can raise awareness for the campaign. By putting a face to the name, an ad should be more easily recalled. However, the type of attention and the reactions to the celebrity aren’t always positive, which then affects the reception of the message. Businesses run a high risk by investing their product in an individual because the consumer’s opinion of the celebrity can overshadow their opinion of the actual product. In Ace Metrix’s study, the most common reasons celebrity ads were unsuccessful are because there was confusion about what product the celebrity was endorsing, the ad was not interesting, or a person might harbor negative attitudes towards the celebrity (1).
Successful ads need to focus on delivering their message in a creative and clear way, and then, like any other element (such as humor or special effects), celebrity endorsements can be powerful in the right context.. Personal testimonials seem to be the most effective use of celebrities among teens (4). Many teens have not personally experienced the negative impacts of smoking, but the message is made more real and relatable by having a celebrity, or someone they respect or want to feel connected to, describe their own experiences. Teens are also responsive to the emotional appeal of personal stories (3).
Choosing the right celebrity is also an important factor to consider. A celebrity must support something that is relevant to the celebrity or that the celebrity is likely to use. Teens realize celebrities are paid to say things, and if they are advertising something that is not believable, the ad will lose its credibility. It is also important to realize that the likeability of a celebrity is entirely objective. Some people may enjoy the celebrity, while others find the individual annoying; these opinions are taken into account when an ad is processed. The credibility of the ad is also linked to the reputation of the celebrity. A celebrity who has recently quit smoking but later regresses or picks up another drug can severely undermine a campaign (2, 4). There are many factors to consider when creating an effective anti-smoking campaign, and the power of an advertisement comes down to the power of the message rather than who delivers it.
1) Ace Metrix. Celebrity Advertisements: Exposing A Myth of Advertising Effectiveness. Ace Metrix, Inc. Proprietary: 2012.
2) Daboll P. “Celebrities in Advertising Are Almost Always a Big Waste of Money.” Ad Age. Crain Communications, 12 January 2011. Web. 5 June 2013. http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/celebrities-ads-lead-greater-sales/148174/
3) Goldman LK, Glantz SA. Evaluation of Antismoking Advertising Campaigns. JAMA 1998; 279: 772-777.
4) Schar E, Gutierrez K, Murphy-Hoefer R, Nelson DE. Tobacco Use Prevention Media Campaigns: Lessons Learned from Youth in Nine Countries. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on smoking and Health; 2006.