The purpose of this paper is to examine women’s reactions to celebrity endorsers holding positive and negative public images and the consequences for purchase intentions of the endorsed product.
The paper draws on the social comparison literature and applies the theory of upward and downward comparisons to the celebrity endorsement context.
Study 1 shows that exposure to celebrities holding a positive public image decrease consumers’ temporal self-esteem, while celebrities holding a negative public image increase temporal self-esteem. Study 2 suggests that this change in self-esteem transfers to the product depending upon the type of social comparison focus (similarity vs dissimilarity) which people have. Study 3 shows that for consumers low in true self-esteem, i.e. self-esteem based upon a stable foundation, celebrities holding a positive public image decrease purchase intentions. For consumers high in true self-esteem, there was no difference between exposure to celebrities holding a positive and a negative public image for purchase intentions. Study 4 focused on replicating the results found in Studies 1-3 in the context of an achievement celebrity (as opposed to a regular celebrity). The findings in Study 4 provide further support for the results of Studies 1 and 3, and identify expert celebrities as a boundary condition for the effects found in Study 2.
The results provide evidence suggesting that celebrities holding a negative public image can be used as celebrity endorsers in product categories in which it can be considered helpful to protect women’s self-esteem, such as beauty products or self-expressive products.
This research contributes to the literature on celebrity endorsement by adding a boundary condition for the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement. According to the results, choosing a positive celebrity can, for some groups, have negative effects on purchase intensions and that a negative celebrity might be the safer choice.
Sääksjärvi, M., Hellén, K. and Balabanis, G. (2016), "Sometimes a celebrity holding a negative public image is the best product endorser", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 50 No. 3/4, pp. 421-441. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-06-2014-0346
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