Consumption And The Role Of Celebrity Branding Cultural Studies Essay

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Arguably, it is very hard not to sense celebrities' existence in our everyday life. Every day, television, radio and magazines provide so much space for famous personalities that have become an integral part of our lives as they have become unavoidable in modern day life. that it is almost impossible to not be influenced by them. Newspapers, even the most sober ones, and many of the internet sites we visit daily and are full of news on celebrities. People around us unconsciously copy them and gossip about them. Whether we buy clothes, cosmetics, jewellery or even food, almost every product we buy is endorsed by celebrity. According to Ellis Cashmore "it is either specious, illogical, or both, to suggest that the way we think about ourselves and present ourselves to others is not influenced by celebrity culture" (Cashmore, 2004: 185). In fact, famous people are easily recognisable and people are often prepared to go to great lengths to try to be like them. For these and more reasons celebrities are greatly suitable for advertising and promoting products. The advertising and branding industries take advantage of this and use them as a very clever tool for endorsing their products. And very often such campaigns win over the advertisements endorsed by anonymous models. This brings up various questions. Why are products endorsed by famous personalities so successful on the market? And why the consumers see value behind the endorsed goods? This essay will attempt to answer these questions and it will investigate the reasons why celebrities are such a good devices for branding and marketing. It will also examine the contemporary consumerism and look at the process of the celebrity product endorsement.

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In general terms, modern Euro- American societies are characterized by the strongly rooted belief that to have is to be (Lury: 2003: 7).

In order to understand contemporary consumerism and thus celebrity branding it is necessary to look at the term consumption in common context. The term consumption is used in everyday language referring to "use" and also is commonly applied in capitalistic and economic terms. The cultural theorist from the Frankfurt School based in Birmingham claimed that at consumption is a result of false needs evoked in people by economic interest of manufacturers. And citizens, they argued, became the passive victims of advertisers. Although, the postmodern cultural studies looks at the consumption as an active process that involves pleasure, mirrors the social and cultural reality and helps the consumers to construct their identities. According to cultural theorist such as Pier Bourdieu consumers are not anymore passive victims of capitalism however they actively and creatively participate in the consumption act. Consumption, he argues, is the articulation of a sense of identity. Through consuming goods we express our taste and thus the display of the bought products to others has a symbolic meaning. It could be stated that nowadays people's sense of identity is connected to consumption and that the rise of individualism and mass consumer society have led people to define themselves in terms of the things they possess. Material possession serves as expression of one's identity, group membership and location in the social- material environment as Helga Dittmar puts it. In contemporary consumer culture self- identity is understood in relation to possessions and possessions are the reflections of the lifestyle, taste and fashion of the owner. According to Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood consumption is a cultural and also an economic phenomenon. They claim that the utility of goods is framed by a cultural context and that even the use of entirely ordinary items has a cultural meaning. "It is in acquiring, using and exchanging things that individuals come to have social lives" they explain (Lury, 2003: 12). Arguably, all material assets are associated with social meanings and can be seen as social communicators. Douglas and Isherwood compare consumption of goods to a kind of a ritual. While some rituals such as praying take verbal form, consumption as a ritual is more effective because it is tied to material objects that are visible. As other rituals consumption also bears social meanings and thus classifies consumers in society.

As stated above the seemingly mundane act of shopping involves social meanings and even an ordinary product has symbolic significance. Grant McCracken in his book, Culture and Consumption, states that advertising serves as an instrument for transferring the meaning. The transfer process begins, he claims, when the advertiser determines the cultural meanings such as type of gender, lifestyle or status that are relevant for the product. Subsequently, the company identifies cultural context and individuals that already contain the meanings that are intended for the product. The consumer has to see similarity between the goods and the meanings he or she is looking for in the advertisement. And at this phrase comes the place for the celebrity. Celebrities are effortlessly recognizable and the wide range of celebrities provides the advertisers with a wide range of meanings to choose from. The celebrity world consists of various personality types and also lifestyle types and as McCracken believes even the most stereotyped celebrity represents set of interconnected meanings. As an example he provides Sarah Jessica Parker the star of the successful series Sex and the City. She is middle class, outgoing and freewheeling. But in fact none of these are the essential meanings she brings to the endorsement. According to McCracken she defined by larger range of meanings; she is also individualistic, sexual and open-minded.

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Anyone who is undergoing status mobility, social role change or is "newly arrived to a culture is heavily indebted to the meanings contained in the consumer society and the celebrity world". (McCracken, 2005: 11)

Nowadays the institutions such as family, church or community seem to be collapsing and the contemporary man needs to find the meaning elsewhere. I could be argued that people are becoming more and more sceptical about politicians and they are not inclined to know who scientists or inventors are, society creates a new kind of heroes and role models to stimulate motivation and inspiration. In the 21st century the model of the conventional hero has disappeared and was replaced by athletes, actors or singers; the well known personalities. Celebrities are arguably regarded within a part of society as charismatic, talented and extraordinary idols with god-like qualities and are the new role models and inspirations that people seek for. Belk and Sahlins argue that "modern Western selves are deliberately left blank so that the individuals may exercise the right of choice" (McCracken, 2005: 112). However, according to Grant McCracken the freedom to choose is now an obligation to decide and that is why the contemporary consumers are so keen on the symbolic meanings contained in celebrities and the products they endorse.

Evidently, celebrities have been playing a significant part of the cultural life and the media and cultural theorists have been looking at the celebrity as an aspect that plays an important role in forming and expressing one's identity. In the last decade the academic literature began to focus on celebrity as a tool for advertising and a device for promoting products as the celebrity became a huge part of the advertising and marketing economy. There are various theories that connect both aspects concerning celebrity; the meaning of celebrity in social life as well as the process of endorsement. Noami Klein's book No Logo is a remarkable critique and summary of the contemporary branding and consumerism and her broad and long-term research in the field reveals loads of facts about the history, development and equity of brands. In her book she also explores the role of well known personalities in branding. One of the personalities that played an important role in the development of celebrity endorsement was Michael Jordan. He was probably the first sport man who signed such an enormously successful contract and incorporated himself into a 'brand'. As Klein sums up "It was Michael Jordan´s extraordinary basketball skill that catapulted Nike to branded heaven, but it was Nike´s commercials that made Jordan a global superstar" (Klein, 2000: 51). Michael Jordan became extremely famous not only due to his unique talent and predispositions for the sport but mainly thanks to the bilaterally convenient contract with the sport clothing company Nike. Since Michael Jordan appeared in Nike's TV commercial with well known cartoon character Buggs Bunny in 1985 many companies have been inspired by this clever collaboration and started off using personalities of sport for promoting not just sport clothing and footwear, but also for various products such as cosmetics, underwear or jeans. Footballer David Beckham, swimmer and Olympic winner Michael Phelps or Formula One Champion Lewis Hamilton have lately appeared in many advertisements as they are all inspirational role models for many youngsters. The most powerful and famous companies in the world use them for their advertisements because they are admired for their phenomenal talent, self-discipline and dedication. Sport stars very often come from working class backgrounds and this fact encourages youngsters from ordinary families even more to make an effort to make their dreams come true. This could be exemplified in Lewis Hamilton who comes from a common mixed race family and grew up in Stevenage, a quiet town near London. After Hamilton became the youngest and first black Formula One champion, he has been regarded by the media as the encouraging role model for young people who come from mixed or black families and dream of becoming successful.

Another theorist exploring the celebrity endorsements and the reasons why the famous persona is so useful for branding is Ellis Cashmore. The worldwide companies, as she believes, choose celebrities to attract people and promote their product because they add a credibility and an authenticity to advertise products and to the commercials. An example could be the British supermodel Kate Moss and her own apparel range for Topshop. Not only did she claim that she designed most of the clothes by herself, she was also spotted many times wearing pieces of her own collection. That might be one of the reasons why the range "Kate Moss for Topshop" was so successful amongst teenagers and young women to the extent that they queued up in front of the shops for hours, even for one piece of it. "When advertisers scan for likely endorsers, credibility is uppermost in their minds. "If consumer regard the celebrity as credible, they are more likely to take notice of the message claims Cashmore"(Cashmore, 2004: 172). It is the believability and sincerity that encourages customers to buy the clothes as well as the fact that they unconsciously choose products that reflect their taste most accurately.

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Cheryl Cole, the Girls Aloud singer and wife of footballer Ashley Cole, could be an example of a star that the clothing or cosmetics companies choose for their advertisements because ordinary people can identify with her. Cheryl has transformed from a girl that grew up on a council estate near Newcastle to a nationwide well known star that appears as a judge on the TV show X-factor. "Her popularity is a consequence of both her credibility and her sincerity" said publicist Max Clifford for the Observer. It could be stated that Cheryl is desirable to many men and a personality that women look up to, she is highly influential. That is why she is a perfect tool for advertising. GMTV's Style expert Mark Heyes assumes that "she's a massive influence on women. "I know every store on the high street is looking to Cheryl to see what she's wearing. Then they'll try to replicate the look somehow soon after. She became a brand Cheryl". According to David Lewis and Darren Bridger "new customers are really seeking to discover themselves. Not the people they feel themselves to be at this moment, but the kind of men and women they aspire to be and feel it within their power to become". (Lewis & Bridger cited in Cashmore, 2004: 175) It might be said that if consumers believe celebrities are credible and they identify with them, then there is a bigger possibility that they are persuaded about the quality of the goods.

Steven Kates believes that "consumption is reflective" (Kates cited in Cashmore, 2004). He thinks that what we buy mirrors where we belong or where we would like to belong. Many important figures of Hip Hop and R'n'B ground their image on expensive clothing and jewellery, cars and luxury. These well known personalities are often examples to be followed by young people, who become consumerist within their aspiration to look like their idols. This is a great opportunity for marketing and advertising corporations to sign a profitable contract both for the celebrity and the company, or even create clothing or shoe ranges with these artists. Teenagers buy products such as apparel and shoe collections, jewellery or books that are created by their idols with the intention to look like them. Certainly, the young consumers buy the endorsed product because of the meanings attached to them. Words of a 16 year old girl from Mintel market research just support this claim: "Your mind doesn´t look at the product being promoted but at the people promoting it. Celebrities have a lot of influence and we believe them when they say these products are good" (Cited in Cashmore, 2004: 167). Furthermore, the music industry and culture connected to it contributes to the roundabout of consumerism and advertising. This is exemplified in perfumes and a clothing range of an American singer and actor Jennifer Lopez or in Billionaire Boys Club cHYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G-Unit_Clothing_Company"lothing range of American rapper Pharrell or 50 Cent's "Bulletproof" games for Sony Playstation and Xbox.

Different while interesting point of view on the function of celebrity in branding is presented by Grant McCracken. In fact, he argues that celebrities are such a good tools for branding because they provide very precise value to the particular brand or advertisement through the meanings they carry. His thesis then validates the claim that consumption is not merely a passive act in which the consumers consume products only for the material reasons but mainly for the values and meanings that the goods possess. According to McCracken the credibility, authenticity and attractiveness are not the only factors why the celebrities are well suitable for branding. He indicates that the celebrity world is more complex than a set of credible or attractive individuals. As he claims it is still possible that some celebrities are more credible than others and that each celebrity is more credible for some marketing purposes than others. However McCracken explain the reasons why celebrities are such a good tools for marketing in meaning transfer process from the celebrity to the consumer. He claims that each celebrity carries certain types of meanings and it is the meanings that make her or him so useful for the endorsement method and the effectiveness of the endorser depends upon the meanings she or he brings to the endorsement. Evidently, advertisements can undertake meaning transfer without celebrities and even an anonymous model can bring a meaning to the product. However McCracken emphasizes that celebrities are able to deliver deeper and more powerful meanings than anonymous models that offer only vague demographic information such as distinction of gender, age or status. The meaning transfer process consists of three stages; in the first stage certain cultural meanings are passed on the celebrity, in the stage two, the meaning moves from the celebrity to the product and in the final stage three, the meaning is transferred from the product to the life of the consumer. The first stage is based on shifting meanings to the celebrities from the roles they take on in their careers. In essence, the meaning that the celebrity gives to the endorsed product was generated in movie or TV performance, sport achievements or political profession. In the second phase of the meaning transfer the value carried by the celebrity is moved to the product. The advertising or marketing agency determines the kind of symbolic cultural properties intended for the product and then chooses a celebrity that is associated with the essential meanings. The advert should suggest the similarity between the celebrity and the product and the customer should believe that the he or she can obtain the values by purchasing it. The final stage of the meaning transfer process is rather complicated as McCracken puts it. It is not enough for the consumer to own the endorsed item to incorporate its meanings into the self but "the consumer must claim, exchange, care for, and use the consumer goods to appropriate its meanings" (McCracken, 2005: 109). In other words, there is no automatic transfer of meaning and rituals play a vital part in this phase.

An instance of the meaning transfer process could be the advertisement for Chanel No. 5 perfume with Nicole Kidman. She is the representation of elegant, sensual middle class woman. As she brings all these cultural meanings to the advertisements the consumer attracted to these symbolic significances is enabled to the take on these meanings by buying the perfume.

"The celebrity is supplying not just an example of self- creation but the very stuff with which this difficult act is undertaken" (McCracken, 2005: 110).

McCracken calls celebrities "super-consumers" as they are inspirational figures to consumers and they have accomplished the task of the construction of self in the first stage of the transfer process by taking on the elements from their careers. They are exemplary individuals that have managed to created clear and consistent selves. In addition, when celebrities endorse a good they make the cultural meanings they posses available in material form; in the form of the endorsed product.

It is evident that celebrities have become a significant part of contemporary Western culture and they are very influential in branding and marketing whether it is because of their credibility, authenticity or the meaning they carry. In addition they are one of the strongest influences in the contemporary consumerism. All the arguments such as Cashmore's thesis on credibility or McCracken's theory of meaning transfer prove that consumption is an activity bearing symbolic significance and that the consumers buy products not only for material reasons but mainly for the figurative meanings that are attached to goods. Even though the consumer and celebrity culture has been accused of supporting materialistic obsessions or triviality these criticisms has failed to see that the celebrity culture and endorsement are profoundly parts of the cultural industry and that people's interest in celebrities reflects their participation in the meaning transfer process. Certainly, there is an organized relationship between the culture, the entertainment industry and the marketing organizations and the critics should be able to see that the "the celebrity world is one of the most potent sources of cultural meaning at the disposal of the marketing system and the individual consumer" (McCracken, 2005: 113).