Many major nonprofits prominently feature celebrities in their TV commercials and other promotional materials. You might feel that this is simply standard practice in the industry, but the question remains – do these celebrity endorsements really even matter?
In some cases, yes, celebrity endorsements do matter. They can help raise awareness of your nonprofit’s cause, and can set a high-profile example of service that can encourage others to get involved as well. In other cases, however, celebrity endorsements might not matter – or might actually be harmful.
Celebrity endorsements for nonprofits are most effective when it is clear that they are not merely something the celebrity is doing for the attention or the positive press, but rather because they are for a cause that truly matters deeply to them. A 30 second TV spot will do little to convince viewers that a celebrity actually cares. Continued hands-on service and involvement over an extended period of time, however, can do so.
This means that shoehorning a celebrity into a promotional appearance that does not “fit” – one in which the celebrity in question has no real connection to your organization – will likely do you little good. You would be better off relying on real people from your organization to communicate your message; even if these people are not necessarily well-known initially, their sincerity and genuine commitment will shine through and present your cause in a far better and more believable light than a celebrity – even a well-meaning one – who is simply reciting a script. In fact, the 2010 Ace Metrix study of celebrity advertisements found that 20 percent of the ads run with a celebrity endorsement actually led to a negative impression in consumers, while only 12 percent of these ads led to more than a 10 percent rise in consumer positive impressions.
In addition, an organization that promotes a celebrity endorsement ties their name and reputation to that celebrity’s, for better or for worse. If the celebrity later becomes involved in some sort of scandal or even illegal activity – certainly not an unusual occurrence for many actors, musicians and other celebrities – your organization’s reputation could be harmed as well. This is particularly problematic if the celebrity is caught doing something that contradicts the message they promoted for your organization.
Again, that is not to say that celebrity endorsements do not matter. They simply are not necessarily effective in and of themselves. When an endorsement comes from a celebrity with a proven track record of involvement in and work for a particular cause about which they truly care, however, it can be quite effective.