Product endorsement by celebrities has long been seen as an effective method of creating value, recognition and credibility for a brand. Also, celebrities are frequently used in television advertising to induce children to try foods.
One example of this, say researchers at the University of Liverpool, is former England international football player Gary Lineker, now mainly a TV sports presenter, who has been endorsing Walker’s crisps since 1995.
The study involved 181 children, aged between eight and 11 years old, who were asked to watch one of three different adverts or general TV footage of Lineker embedded within a 20-minute cartoon. The adverts were for Walkers crisps (featuring Gary Lineker as a celebrity endorser), a different snack food or a toy product.
The children were offered two bowls of crisps to eat, one labelled `Walkers’ and one labelled `Supermarket’ although both bowls actually contained Walkers crisps.
The study found that after watching the Lineker advert or the general footage of Lineker, the children ate considerably more of the Walkers crisps than the children who watched the other snack food advert or the toy advert.
Dr Emma Boyland, from the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, who led the research, said: “This is the first study to show the powerful effects of celebrity endorsement – in both a TV advertising and a non-food context.
“The study demonstrated, for the first time, that the influence of the celebrity extended even further than expected and prompted the children to eat the endorsed product even when they saw the celebrity outside of any actual promotion for the brand.”
While the research may be viewed by manufacturers as advertising budgets well spent, researchers raised the spectre that it could be a key factor in the burgeoning obesity crisis amongst youngsters.
“This research has consequences for the use of celebrities, and in particular sports stars, in advertising unhealthy or high fat salt and sugar (HFSS) products,” added Boyland.
“If celebrity endorsement of HFSS products continues and their appearance in other contexts prompts unhealthy food intake then this would mean that the more prominent the celebrity the more detrimental the effects on children’s diets.”