When celebrities count: Power distance beliefs and celebrity endorsements - Winterich et al. (2018) - Article

What are power distance beliefs?

Power distance beliefs (PDB) refers to the degree of power disparity that people in a culture expect and accept. Research indicates that PDB influences consumers´ tendencies to listen to and respect the opinions of authority figures, including celebrities as they tend to rank higher in social hierarchies.

What is celebrity endorsement?

Celebrity endorsement refers to an advertising strategy in which a famous person uses his/her social status to promote a good, service, or idea. Using celebrity endorsement has many benefits for the brands, like raising brand awareness, defining the brand image, and increasing sales. The efficacy of celebrity endorsement can be explained by source models. Source models specify the effects of source credibility and source attractiveness for communication. If a celebrity is believed to be trustworthy and believable, the consumer will more readily accept their influence and internalize the provided information. The extent to which celebrity endorsers communicate expertise and trustworthiness may differ by culture.

How can power distance beliefs moderate celebrity endorsement?

Power distance beliefs can be manifested at the national levels, at the individual level, but also be activated temporarily. It can be expected that even though PDB can exist on different levels, the effects of PDB should be conceptually consistent. In cultures with high PDB, consumers accept inequality and obey authorities (including celebrities). Consumers view celebrities as role models and may tend to internalize celebrities´ stated beliefs. In cultures with low PDB, cultures do not automatically assign authority or credibility to celebrities. Consumers tend to seek facts and evidence and do not look to celebrities for guidance. They do not view celebrities as having authority and do not attribute them more credibility than non-celebrities.

How do source expertise and trustworthiness mediate celebrity endorsement?

Source credibility refers to whether a source appears to possess expertise that is relevant to the topic and can be trusted to give an objective opinion. A credible source has positive effects on attitudes towards the advertisement, purchase intentions, and brand credibility. In the current study the focus is on expertise and trustworthiness as important characteristics of source credibility, as source credibility represents the extent to which consumers perceive information to be informative and believable. Expertise is the extent to which a communicator is perceived to be a source of valid assertions. Trustworthiness is the degree of confidence in the communicators´ intent to communicate the assertions he considers most valid.

What are the main conclusions with regards to PDB and celebrity endorsement?

  • PDB moderates the effect of celebrity endorsement on advertising evaluations and brand attitudes. The effect is greater in high PDB-consumers. This effect exists regardless of whether the PDB are activated on an individual level, or only temporarily.
  • The effect seems stronger for durable goods, and celebrities seem less influential with regard to advertising evaluations, regardless of PDB.
  • Cultural tendencies associated with PDB that lead to respect for authority result in greater credibility of celebrity endorsers (which in turn lead to more favorable advertising evaluations and brand attitudes).
  • The characteristics of PDB that affect status consumption, price-quality judgments, and donation behavior, determine the extent to which consumers respond favorably to celebrity endorsers.
  • The effect of PDB on evaluations of celebrity endorsers arises through attributions of expertise and trust to celebrities.

How can these results be used by marketers?

Marketers use celebrities to increase brand awareness and increase sales. The results indicate that celebrity endorsers have greater effects on advertising and brand evaluations among respondents with high PDB. This offers insight into the when and why celebrities can prompt positive effects among low PWD consumers. Consumers from low PDB cultures do not automatically see celebrities as trustworthy or experts. The effectiveness of the celebrity endorser will depend on other factors (e.g. product fit). Managers should then take extra care when choosing the celebrity.  

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