So do millions of fans… and so should the finance directors of all universities offering PR courses, as believe it or not, Samantha’s role in Sex and the City as the glamorous PR, queen of the “fabulous lifestyle”, is responsible for many student enrolements in PR degrees, according to authors Morris and Goldsworthy. In their book A Persuasive Industry, they refer to her as a highly effective international ambassador for PR, who has contributed to PR’s popularity, more so than any other PR organization. Such is the power of celebrities, but hang on… her character ISN’T EVEN REAL.
Society thrives on the cult of celebrity. They feed our craving for escapist entertainment and our unquenchable thirst for glamour, even if it’s lived through the lives of completely unreachable strangers. We want to follow them, know about them (and their wardrobes), be them, and as good PR’s we are AWARE of this intriguing psychological condition, and we have been using it to our advantage for many years. Today, globalization and the unlimited power of Internet enable celebrity culture to flourish on a global massive scale.
A celebrity is “a well-recognised person who commands a high degree of public and media attention” (Tench &Yeomans 2009). Throughout history there have always been famous personalities who have stood out from the masses, but it was the rise of the mass media in the 1850’s that lead to the creation and popularization of the ‘celebrity concept’. and the stars’ spotlight is fuelled by the joint work of editors and publicists.
By the 1920’s, the magazines were contributing to the construction of the star system by promoting key figures from the world of leisure and entertainment; and so the (sometimes bumpy) marriage between media and celebrities came to be. Ultimately, media fascination with “celebrity news” has had a clear impact on the PR industry.
In the 1920’s we can find one of the first examples of a PR’s use of celebrity endorsements ; the Torches of Freedom campaign, by the legendary Edward Bernays. He was hired by the American Tobacco Company to break the social taboo against women smoking in public, which would increase the sales of Lucky Strike cigarettes.
Bernays hired a group of young models to march in the New York City parade; his stunt involved having the models lighting the cigarettes (torches of freedom) all at once, as a proclamation of women’s independance. He made sure that this dramatic symbol was covered by the media.
Successful celebrity product placement and sponsorship tie-ins have flourished in the consumer PR sector. Let’s talk about the glitter effects of celebrity endorsement. Brands use celebrities to borrow the authority of fame, glamour, or acclaimed expertise and attach this excitement to their product and image.
Successful endorsements help forge relationships between brands and people by capitalizing on the audience’s trust on the endorser. It’s a persuassive tool that can greatly influence the way people think and feel towards the brand as well as affect their purchase decisions.
Borrowing stars spotlight for the good of the brand can sometimes be a double-edged sword, as celebrity scandals can be very harmful to the brand’s image. Brands run away from the celebrities-gone-bad, such as recently disgraced Lance Armstrong, for without credibility, the endorsement is worthles.
Nowadays, the social media revolution has enabled a cheaper form of celebrity endorsement; the rise to stardom of ordinary people. Direct engagements with consumers are making celebrity intermediaries less necessary. Many digital PR strategies are focused on inviting users to “share the digital spotlight” and make them feel like celebrities of the brand’s micro universe. In this wat, they generate a community style endorsement which is a lot more doable, given the increasingly reduced budget.
However, PR will always recognize the power of glitter. Regardless of the democratization of media, our love affair with celebrities will endure; the voice of stardom will still be loud and clear and will always want to be heard. And that, my PR friends is showbiz.