Why Celebrity Endorsements Can Hurt You & How You Can Resist Them

Athletes. Actors. Musicians. Chefs. Reality stars enjoying their 15 minutes of fame. 

Whatever line of business you’re in, once you hit the big time and have some influence over your audience, companies will eagerly pay for you to hawk their products. It doesn’t matter if it’s nail polish or name brand soda, if your face makes people buy, you could earn millions. Even more than with your “regular” job!

Here’s the catch: As a celebrity, just because you hold sway with your fans, this doesn’t necessarily mean you use any of the products you’re endorsing (think Justin Bieber and girls' cosmetics). 

And in a lot of cases, you might know next to nothing about the company or product you’re endorsing, other than the name. You simply show up to a studio set looking fantastic, snap a couple of photos, and go about your day (after cashing your huge check, of course).

Deep down, we understand that celebrities are basically paid to be talking heads for different products, often decided by whichever company can fork over the most money. Whether or not a celebrity has used (or even heard) of the product is inconsequential; all that matters is that their likeness sells.

Given this, why are so many of our buying decisions influenced by what our favorite celebs are promoting? What is it that influences us? Can these decisions negatively impact your life, and is there a way to resist them?

Let’s start by taking a look at what happens to your brain when you see a product advertised by a celebrity.

 Brett Favre endorsing the Micro Touch Tough Blade Brett Favre endorsing the Micro Touch Tough Blade. (Image: screen grab from Micro Touch Tough Blade's video.)

Why Celebrity Endorsements Are So Powerful

In the past, we’ve talked a lot about how infomercials are scientifically designed to elicit emotional responses from you. These marketers fully understand the psychology of selling, so their goal is to remove all rational thought and cause you to make an emotional purchase. And they’re extremely effective.

Unfortunately, there isn’t nearly as much clinical research studying the effects of celebrity endorsements on consumers. What little there is, though, seems to indicate that when we see a celebrity’s face paired with a product, this image activates the same pleasure center in our brain as infomercials.

Of course, this is as long as the celebrity and the product they’re endorsing are a good fit, and as long as the celeb maintains a positive public perception. If not, companies are quick to disassociate themselves from stars (think Tiger Woods’s fall from grace).

There’s also growing evidence that celebrity endorsements are authoritative (e.g. “If X Product is good enough for Tom Cruise, it’s good enough for me!”), and that these products are easier for us to remember than a generic, non-celebrity endorsed product.

In short? Our positive feelings about celebrities are transferred to the products they’re endorsing, making us more likely to buy them.

Even though companies might not always know the exact science behind why celebrity endorsements work, they definitely recognize the increase in product sales (although many marketers are beginning to question the true value of celebrity endorsements). Which is why companies like Nespresso will pay George Clooney $40 million and Pepsi will pay Beyonce $50 million to endorse their products.

And who could forget the George Foreman Grill? This is perhaps one of the best possible examples of celebrity selling power, as it’s now become the biggest-selling household appliance in history.

Regardless of how we feel about different celebrities, is there any real connection between them and whatever it is they’re endorsing? Do these superstars even use these products in the first place?

Do Celebrities Use the Products They Endorse?

As we learned above, companies are eager to shell out millions of dollars in order to get celebrities to promote their products. And with so much money on the table, we can imagine it’s difficult for celebrities to resist—even when they don’t use the products themselves, and know next to nothing about the companies behind them.

As we mentioned in the beginning, they just know they’re supposed to show up on set, take some pictures or shoot a quick commercial, and then go about being their fabulous (and wealthy) selves.

A prime example of this was when the Kardashian sisters were sued by Revenue Resource Group, LLC after the women pulled out of a deal to support the company’s prepaid debit card. Little did the Kardashians know that RRG implemented quasi-legal fees in their cards, or that the company was being investigated by the Connecticut Attorney General for alleged fraud.

Note: Keep in mind that this is much different than fake celebrity endorsements, where a celebrity’s image (like the Kardashians, for example) is used without their permission. 

Unscrupulous companies aside, think about it this way: Do we really believe that the Kardashians use prepaid debit cards? That Brett Favre uses Copper Fit Socks or the Micro Touch Tough Blade? Fran Drescher and Yes! by Finishing Touch? Or that Jane Seymour actually uses (and enjoys) Crepe Erase?

Jane SeymourJane Seymour

If we’re being honest with ourselves, probably not. But all that matters is that these products get exposure, enter the public’s awareness, and help build brand identity.

“So what?” you might be thinking to yourself. “These celebrities are just trying to get paid. How does this affect me as a consumer?”

Great question! Let’s find out.

Why’s It So Important to Think Rationally about Celebrity Endorsements?

Even if celebrities do use some of the products they endorse, this doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily effective or safe. What about famous physicians? They can always be trusted, right?

Even if a product is peddled by a well-known medical professional (the infamous Dr. Oz immediately comes to mind), this doesn’t mean it’s backed by clinical science, proven to be effective, or shown to be safe.

Remember though, companies don’t want you thinking rationally. Instead, they want you to set aside your reason, remain star struck, and willingly hand over your credit card.

But when you make purchases this way, you’re bound to pay a higher price than similar, but generic, brands—even if they could meet your needs equally well. Not only this, but you could waste money on unfounded fads that might not work, and that could also be potentially dangerous (referencing the celebrity-fueled waist training craze as one example).

Pro tip: As this 2006 NBC News article exposed, companies often aren’t required to prove their products work, and can easily use “creative wording” to make you think they do.

Even with approved pharmaceuticals, the methods used by celebrities to endorse them might not give you everything you need to make an informed decision. Duchesnay Inc. learned this the hard way when their morning sickness pill, which was promoted by Kim Kardashian, earned a strongly worded letter from the FDA.

The bottom line? Don’t ever—ever—make a buying decision solely because a celebrity promotes a product. Instead, be sure to research the product and the manufacturer as much as possible. Hint: HighYa is a great place to start!

What are some other real-world tips you can use to resist celebrity endorsements and save yourself some money (and perhaps frustration)?

How to Resist Celebrity Endorsements

Watch Those Emotions

First, the most important thing you can do is to turn off your emotions. Sure, this isn’t always easy to do when you’re in the heat of the moment, but if you can tell yourself to get up and walk away from the TV or computer, this can go a long way toward preventing an unwanted purchase.

Give yourself a few minutes to cool down. Go ahead, you deserve it! 

In the mean time, be sure to read How Psychology Can Help Control Your Emotions & Avoid Scams

Your Desires Aren’t Always Reality

Next, understand that you’re projecting your desires onto the product, solely because it’s being endorsed by someone you admire (for one reason or another). But the reality is that 1) the celeb probably doesn’t even use the product, and 2) even if they did, you shouldn’t consider them an expert.

For example, Kim Kardashian raving about a new exercise device or morning sickness pill neither makes her a fitness professional or a doctor. Take everything they say with a grain of salt, because they’re probably just reading from a preapproved script.

Real World Research (RWR)

As we mentioned in the previous section, it’s also extremely important that you research any products you’re thinking about buying, whether they’re endorsed by a celebrity or not.

One of the easiest ways to do this is by learning what other customers are saying on consumer advocacy sites like HighYa. You can also enter the phrase “[product name] reviews” or “[product name] scam” into your favorite search engine, which, if the company’s been around for any length of time, should pull up plenty of information (remember: bad news travels faster than good news).

Share Your Experiences & Help Others

Finally, the biggest thing you can do tell help others learn about celebrity-endorsed products is by leaving reviews of your own. After all, consumers want to read about your experiences in order to help them make more informed purchases.

You can even get a head start by leaving a comment below! Did you find the information in this article useful? Do you have any tips to share that we might have missed?

Whatever it is, let us know!

Derek Lakin

Senior Editor at HighYa. With more than a decade of experience as a copywriter, Derek takes a detail-oriented, step-by-step approach to helping you shop smarter. Whether it’s nutritional supplements or new scams, he believes an informed consumer is a happy customer. Connect with him on Twitter: @DALwrites


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