In my last piece I wrote about branding and reviews and since then I’ve had the opportunity to talk with colleagues and think further on the subject and realised I had missed another feature of traditional branding that is trumped by authenticated online reviews – endorsements.
In a round about way I realised my glaring omission when I read about Oscar Wilde’s role as a pioneer of the celebrity endorsement, whist touring the United States in 1882. Wilde was one of the first people to become famous solely for being famous. Before he published any of his plays, novels, poems, or observations, Wilde was a sensation because of what he said, how he said it, and how he dressed. His tour of the United States garnered huge crowds and fevered press attention. Then some advertising genius had an epiphany – ‘this guy is famous, if we photograph him with products, they’ll sell like hot cakes’. That’s pretty much how it played out and since then practically every consumer product or service has been pushed by celebrities paid for their endorsements.
The psychology is simple – consumers believed the words of famous people they admire and identify with, without really considering they were paid to do so. “Mr T likes that cereal?, then I’m getting it too.’ ‘That actor says this life funeral insurance is good? I’m in.’ It doesn’t matter that said actors are still acting and being paid to do so. The celebrity endorsement comes across as genuine and alluring. Consumers are tricked into thinking that the ‘real’ actor’ is endorsing a consumer product of their own violation, for free.
Nowadays the celebrity endorsement continues in its traditional sense through TV and radio, although predominantly to an older demographic. Younger consumers are bombarded with the newer version – Youtube ‘influencers’ hawking off a wide range of goods and services.
But if you are a company owner wanting to increase profits and your customer base what is the use of paying for someone else’s endorsement when you can garner far more powerful voices promoting your business, for free? After all, the ‘celebrity’ endorsement is really a gimmick that connects with a rather strange element of human psychology – feeling connected to people who have achieved fame and believing them. The believability is in the celebrity – not the product and in reality, there is little to behind the endorsement to prove its voracity.
Reviews, on the other hand are certainly an endorsement but they are of far greater value. They are not paid for, they are not manipulated, and a reviewer is motivated by their experience to want to share it with however many strangers to help them make important decisions. The synchronicity of reviewer and reader is authentic and enduring.
It makes absolute sense for business owners to identify and embrace the endorsements that actually matter to create new customers. Whilst the reviewer and the celebrity endorser may be strangers (to differing degrees) to their respective audiences, readers of reviews trust the expressed experiences and opinions of fellow consumers enough to motivate them to purchase or hire.