Celebrities are everywhere. From professional athletes and musicians to models and actors, the faces of revered stars regularly pop up to promote both major food companies and up-and-coming brands.
"The use of celebrities as brand ambassadors remains a powerful, positive communications platform for marketers to stimulate consumer engagement and to emanate a sense of credibility and relevancy in the eyes of the consumer," Forbes reported.
Celebrity endorsements in action
Jane Lynch and Vita Coco
Kevin Bacon and American Egg Board
Taylor Swift and Diet Coke
When endorsements can be controversial
One study from the Harvard Business School found that athlete endorsements could mean positive pay-offs for a company, including increases in both sales and stock, and those returns increased significantly with each of the athlete’s major achievements.
Public health advocates voice concerns when athletes endorse products like junk food and soda, such as that athletes, who are revered especially by children, are promoting products that they wouldn’t eat or drink themselves because the products aren’t part of the healthy diet that contributes to their athleticism.
A 2013 study published by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University in the journal "Pediatrics" focused on athlete celebrity endorsements, which found that food and beverage was the second most popular category for athlete endorsements. Sports drinks were the most common product, followed by soft drinks and fast food.
According to the study, 93% of the 46 beverages endorsed by professional athletes depended on sugar alone for all of their calories. Researchers also found that children ages 12 to 17 saw these athlete-endorsed ads more than adults.
"One reason any campaign wants a popular celebrity spokesperson is because kids are attracted to them no matter what they are doing. … We can’t expect kids to turn off that admiration when the same person is selling sugar," Andrew Cheyne, a researcher at the Berkeley Media Studies Group, told TIME. "At best, kids might be confused. At worst, they’ll think the messages about soda are the same as the messages about water, and those two beverages aren’t the same."
Celebrities endorsing smaller brands
Celebrity endorsements tend to involve major food and beverage companies, but more celebrities are putting their faces to the smaller, up-and-coming brands that are threatening those larger companies’ market share.
"The nature of celebrity endorsements is changing, and high-profile celebrities are no longer out of reach for small companies, says Evan Morgenstein, chief executive of US-based firm Celeb Experts," BBC News reported.
Frozen foods maker Luvo, which focuses on using healthier, better-quality ingredients, has recently been endorsed and invested in by professional athletes like swimmer Natalie Coughlin. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and retired New York Yankees baseball player Derek Jeter are also investors. The company faces major competition like Nestle, which recently built a massive global frozen foods R&D center. This is all in the time of a challenging frozen foods industry, which has seen declining sales for three years in a row.
Celebrity endorsements are also now more accessible for smaller brands thanks to social media, such as Twitter and Instagram, which provide an easy avenue for celebrities and athletes to promote products from up-and-coming brands.
But is paying for celebrities worth the investment?
Not all industry experts believe spending money on celebrity endorsements is worth the money for companies, big or small.
One study, which appeared in the journal "Social Influence," concluded that celebrity endorsements are indeed not worth the cost, and an executive would be better off investing that money back into the company itself, especially if the product is already strong.
"The overall message to marketers is be careful, because all of us, celebrities or not, have positives and negatives to our personalities, and those negatives can easily transfer to a brand," research leader Margaret C. Campbell, who teaches at CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business told Forbes.
Celebrities can use their popularity to support causes that may work for or against brands, such as Brad Pitt and Bill Maher’s attacks on Costco’s use of caged hens for its eggs as well as a variety of celebrities who recently spoke out in favor of GMO labeling.
Still, investing in celebrity endorsements or trying to attract celebrities who might endorse a brand’s products without a contract could be a game-changer for brands looking to shake up their marketing strategies — though it's a matter of proceeding with caution.