Sports Celebrity and Product Endorsement From a Consumer Perspective
Marketing as a science and as an art form relies heavily upon impression building, an understanding of the psychology of one’s consumers and the ability to communicate a desired image with the aid of emotionally evocative cues. When an advertising agency constructs the print, radio, television or internet item that will carry these characteristics, a great deal of thought and discussion will typically be invested in discussion the intended presentation of the client. This discussion will touch on such matters as the visual response sought by the client; the verbal phraseology which is likely to tow the difficult balance between compelling and safe; and the human subjects which will be used to endorse the product, service or reputation of the client. To this latter point especially, there is a wealth of evidence to suggest that the people who are used to endorse products, services or companies — whether professional actors, or celebrity sponsors — will evoke a response in the intended target. This is a reality that is especially relevant in the world of professional sports, where sponsorship and endorsement are largely consider a part of the job.
The purpose of the research conducted here is to determine to what extent the use of athletes impacts the impression invoked in intended consumers, whether this has an effect on buying habits and, if so, how this effect is manifested. Based on that which is available in terms of research on the impact of sports celebrity endorsement on buying habits, it is argued here that positive sports celebrity image can have a positive impact on the market performance of the associated product, service or organization. It is also argued that endorsement by a sports figure who becomes subsequently entangled with a negative association due to legal infraction, behavioral instability or even performance decline can have a negative impact on an organization’s desired impression and thus, on the organizations market performance.
In order to address the topic with focus and precision, the research is guided by some distinct questions concerning the correlation between sports figure endorsement and market behavior. The primary research question directing the research process is the following:
What is the impact, positive or negative, of sports celebrity endorsement, sponsorship or advertising association with relation to the effectiveness at reaching an intended target, at influencing buying behavior according to a desired end or at producing the desired relationship between image and brand?
This will result in the consideration of a number of sub-questions that will also guide the research process. Among them, the following are the most crucial;
How can the positive reputation of a sports figure impact the image of a product or organization?
How can the negative reputation of a sports figure impact the image of a product or organization?
Is there a direct correlation between the use of a sports celebrity and the sales performance of an associated product, line or organization?
There is a wealth of observable case history available for examination but there remains a shortcoming in terms of concrete data concerning popular impressions of the notion of sports celebrity endorsement and their direct tendencies of response thereto. This means that there is both a considerable availability of sources from which to draw a thorough understanding of the impact of sports endorsement on market behavior and simultaneously, a need to design some instrument for the gathering of data on individual responses and beliefs. As a result, the research will be conducted in two separate methodological phases.
The first phase of the research process will be a detailed investigative literature review. This will consider a host of scholarly journals, published texts, online sources and marketing reports on the subjects of sports advertising, celebrity endorsement and impression management. The synthesis of findings from previous research endeavors will be used to establish a fuller understanding of that which we already know or understanding about the potential value and possible drawbacks of using sports figures to create impression, brand association and consumer behavior. The sources consulted will address the relative popularity of the approach, the illustrated benefits, the possible pitfalls and the set of beliefs amongst advertisers and consumers that impact the way in which this method of advertising is used.
The findings produced by the literature review will be used to hone the set of questions best suited to construct a meaningful and effective survey instrument for the gathering of sample data. From a sample of 100 self-proclaimed sports fans, divided directly in half amongst 50 male and 50 female subjects, the survey would be distributed with intent to gain an understanding of how sports fans view themselves in relation to celebrity sports endorsers and the buying habits related to associated products, services or organizations. The sample selected for the survey would be drawn from volunteers in attendance at an actual sporting event. As the bulk of this research would be conducted in concert with the soccer season, volunteers would be selected at a World Cup soccer game and administered the survey, which they could then return to an honor box located toward the front gate of the stadium. The findings of the surveys would then be synthesized into a set of findings concerning consumer self-report on buying habits and personal response tendencies where sports celebrity product endorsement or sponsorship is concerned.
A literature review on the subject concerns first and foremost the principles and available findings relating to celebrity endorsement in marketing as a more general concept. This will lead us into various points of discussion relating to the perceived impact of utilizing an individual of popular recognition or appeal to establish some desired image or impression of a product, service or organization. Generally speaking, this refers to the very familiar and commonly used appeal to figures of note from entertainment, public service or other various fields of performance to speak persuasively on the behalf of a product or organization. The marketing approach is described in the research by Agrawal & Kamakura (1995) as being largely beneficial to the organization in question, provided that it has successfully chosen the appropriate individual to serve as a hired representative. As Agrawal & Kamakura denote, the apparent effectiveness and value of this method of advertising leads many organizations to perceive it as a worthwhile expenditure. Indeed, as their article reports, “according to industry sources, approximately 20% of all television commercials feature a famous person, and approximately 10% of the dollars spent on television advertising are used in celebrity endorsement advertisements.” (Agrawal & Kamakura, 56)
The frequency with which companies are willing to appeal to celebrities for marketing purposes denotes the view that there are distinct opportunities for the company itself to gain greater recognition, positive association, brand image development and a host of other potential gains that can have the effect of improving consumer gravitation toward a product. Indeed, where celebrity endorsement is concerned, there is a tendency on the part of the consumer to draw inferences about the nature of the company being advertised. Many of these inferences will be drawn from a perception of the celebrity in question and will be used to construct an emotional response to that which is being sold and advertised. According to Agrawal & Kamakura, there is already an existing body of research to contend that this pattern is accurate. To the point, they report that “findings show that celebrities make advertisements believable and enhance message recall. Furthermore, celebrities aid in the recognition of brand names, create a positive attitude towards the brand and create a distinct personality for the endorsed brand.” (Agrawal & Kamakura, 56) Provided that advertisers have selected the proper celebrity to resonate with the selected target, the money invested into bringing a celebrity onboard will be an intangible expense but can be rewarded with the exponentially beneficial outcome of an overall achievement of brand image.
This is proving especially true where sports celebrities, professional athletes and others affiliated with professional sports are concerned. The natural marketing context and inbuilt audiences provided by sportscasts, regionally popular sports figures or even nationally or globally recognized athletes functions as a very attractive motive for companies and products that bear a relationship peripherally or directly to the world of sports. For sports of a wide variety both within the largest sports marketing context of the United States and throughout the rest of the world, there is a shared perspective that sports figures have a unique draw when targeting the appropriate audience. As the text by Wenner (1998) phrases it, “the common factors in these phenomena, beyond the construction of communities of sporting interests that transcend national boundaries, is that boundaries between what used to be related but separable activities — the promotion of sports, and the use of sports events and personalities to promote other products — are being dissolved.” (Wenner, 57)
Wenner introduces to this discussion the compelling idea that sports marketing is a process which has come into evolution as a matter of inherency relating to the professionalization and paying spectatorship of most major league sports. By virtue of the fact that sports such as baseball and football in the United States had begun to prove themselves enormously popular and profitable, the intrusion of sponsorship and advertisement as a regular element of the game had begun a century ago. However, the paired evolution of the sports market to the coverage of an enormous breadth of market contexts and categories and of the media channels through which sports are sold and broadcast have resulted in a clear opportunity for integration of the sports and marketing sectors. As Wenner indicates, “the production and staging of sport as commercial entertainment led to the emergence of entrepreneurial structures and practices that would slowly transform the relationships between sporting teams and the communities they ostensibly ‘represent.’” (Wenner, 58)
Thus, the idea of associated stars of professional sports with products, or indeed commoditization the players themselves would become an early and important part of the evolution and proliferation of the major leagues and international leagues that constitute the highest level of athletic competition today. The premise of paying those figures of the greatest skill level or highest draw of public interest would become an intuitive aspect of marketing the games themselves. The appeal of individually stellar athletes would be directly tied to the expansion of mass media capable of reaching new levels of audience captivity, with respect both to the sports and to the advertising blocks that sponsored their broadcast. Wenner elaborates this point, indicating that in the early evolution of professional sports in America, “for those players who acquired reputations for producing the goods in decisive situations — whether home runs, goals, or touchdowns — their feats became legendary, and the men themselves were constructed as larger than life characters. Such attention has turned figures from Babe Ruth to Wayne Gretzky into household names, and along with similar ‘star-marking’ publicity in the film and music industries, it has helped create the phenomenon of the celebrity entertainer.” (Wenner, 62)
This is a key point which becomes increasingly more important to the discussion here, offering the concept that individual players of note and of the capacity to be viewed as stars transcending the games in which they have excelled. In addition to the symbolic appeal of a figure such as Michael Jordan, Muhammed Ali, Tiger Woods, Babe Ruth, or indeed many members of the storied Yankees lineups of the 20th century, many of these individual have commanded a powerful brand image with its own inbuilt market capability. With respect to the growth of their various sports and their capacity to influence buying behaviors, Wenner would argue that “famous names were shown to promote interest in the sports events or films they were part of, and also to help sell the products they endorsed. Thus it was not long before the media and entertainment industries recognized their common stake in the manufacture of ‘names’ for a public demonstrably fascinated by stardom.” (Wenner, 62)
This would produce the increasingly complex, demonstrably reliably and occasionally regrettable affiliation between professional athletes and commercial endorsement of products and companies. As a result, sports marketing is today its own field within the broader subject of marketing. The concept of sports marketing is principally expansive and multifaceted. The surface notion of marketing logos, symbols and products in merchandising association with teams, leagues, organizations or individuals is supplemented by countless other branches of retail, public relations and advertising that must be assessed under the umbrella concept of sports marketing. This discipline stretches across countries, athletic traditions, seasonal variations and a diverse, multi-stratified range of targets, with contexts and media also varying widely. Examples persist in everyday life; Michael Jordon’s well-known associations with such products external to the sporting industry such as Hanes Underwear and Nike Sneakers; the banking industries wholesale dominance in the contest to name today’s modern sport stadium complex; the specific tailoring of Budweiser commercials to appeal directly to audiences of NFL broadcasts and even the direct sponsorship of performing athletes such as in individual-competitive sports such as NASCAR racing or Xtreme tournaments. This sweeping view of sports marketing is intended to demonstrate the vast array of branches contributing to an understanding of this as a rapidly growing industry with increasingly greater implications in mainstream contexts such as entertainment, health, consumer markets and personal value systems. Wenner’s text places the beginning of this phenomenon in the early 20th century, observing that “by the late 1930s, it was possible to see in outline what would become the ubiquitous place of professional sport in North American popular culture. It is important to recognize that it was the development of newspaper chains and radio networks that became, in effect, national information systems that facilitated the development of common knowledge and interests among geographically dispersed regions.” (Wenner, 62)
This points to the clear association between media innovations and the spread of interest in the sporting tradition which persists even today. The massive potential suggested early by sports stardom for commercial appeal is only further magnified in the age of 24/7 information and entertainment. Sports-specific cable packages, webcasts of athletic competitions, mobile cellular technology programmed to provide score updates and game highlights all are innovations which have carried with them significant commercial opportunities relating to the innovation of popular sports and technological progress. Referring once again to Wenner’s retrospection on the subject, it is clear that this pattern is in many ways culturally driven and associated with the consumerist impulses that are distinctly American. Wenner argues “that the emergence of national media in America was driven by the interests of advertisers in reaching national audiences also meant that the lines between news, entertainment, and advertising would be constantly blurred. This would help to make the place of both professional sport and its sponsors in the fun-oriented consumer culture that was part of the promise of ‘America’ in the interwar period, and would become even more so after the war.” (Wenner, 62)
This theme of a cultural proclivity toward consumerism and the permeation of sports into various aspects of everyday life emerges as an important one in the present discussion. Indeed, the American professional sporting tradition commands great power and presence in many aspects of American life. Personal attachments to leagues, teams and individuals make sporting events a major part of our cultural and recreational experience. There is additionally the propensity for individuals to form personal athletic habits according to these attachments. And certain events, such as the National Football League’s Superbowl, baseball’s October Classic or the National Basketball Association’s All-Star Slam Dunk Competition, constitute important moments in our collective memory and shared consciousness.
As a reciprocal reality to this condition, the best of our professional athletes are also amongst the most highly visible and highly paid members of society. For some individuals who have otherwise been raised in settings running the gamut from comfortable to impoverished, professional sporting has represented not just a leap into the top fraction of the top percent of America’s earners, but also a pass into high-society, television and film appearances opportunities where desired and, of course, a limitless category of opportunities for endorsement and marketing work. This equation has produced a sports marketing industry that constitutes at least as broad a market as the professional sporting industry itself. Indeed, with the most recent estimates evaluating the total sports marketing industry as accounting for $250 billion a year in the U.S. alone, it is clear that the sporting business is comprised of far more than ticket and concession sales. (Wikipedia, 1) Thus, as we consider the present investigation concerning consumer behaviors, we do so with an understanding that the affiliation with professional athletes and sports icons offers the opportunity to engage marketing targets in a vast array of contexts through highly visible individuals. Embodied in many such individuals will be an array of physical and personal traits that tend to resonate with the personal ambitions of consumers, the experiential affection of fans and the competitive inherency of our capitalist rearing.
Our research identifies consistently that television is the most important medium in sports marketing. This is underscored by Mullin et al. (2007), who identify television’s rise in popular penetration with the growth of the global sports entertainment market. Accordingly, Mullin et al. indicate that “television has helped to build fan bases ever since the 1950s. As much as anything else, the spread of television images has spurred global markets for certain sport products such as the NBA, Nike, and Michael Jordan.” (Mullin et al., 9) Even today, with the increasing intercession of advancements in internet technology and innovations in the manner in which sports organizations attempt to reach their audience, it remains the case that television’s unique audio/visual real-time feed is often seen as the best way to access one’s sports teams and organizations. This, in turn, makes the medium particularly useful both for establishing sports stars as recognizable faces and household names, and for using these same starts to create a visual association with selected brands.
The argument made by Mullin et al. concerning the continued primacy of television is supported by additional research on the subject. Accordingly, an article from The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University found that the vast majority of sports fans continue to seek their broadcasts on television, and therefore, this is the setting where advertisers must pay the greatest sums to share in a vast but concentrated target market. Indeed, “a study co-sponsored by ESPN found that in 2001, 93% of youth ages eight to 17 watched, listened to or read about sports via television, radio, newspapers, books, the Internet, video games and the movies. Television is the medium used most for sports by the majority of these youth (93% of boys, 81% of girls)” (FS, 1)
This is a pattern that began to emerge in the 1960 and 1970s, when the unprecedented popularity of such individual stars as the NBA’s Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving and Major League Baseball’s Hank Aaron and Reggie Jackson began to give rise to both the prominence of the sports agency and the cross-marketing sporting icon. (Wikipedia, 1) The notion that the sports star was a ready made figure for the endorsement of products of consumer interest had begun to emerge in simultaneity with the notion that the sports star might begin to command a salary concordant with increasingly impressive box office and merchandising returns for sporting organizations. The prospects for the cultural and economic enormity of professional sports would reach a point of inflection with the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, “when corporate sponsors used the Games as a platform to market their brands. Coca-Cola, for example, spent nearly $30 million in support of its official sponsorship of the Games.” (Wikipedia, 1) The 1984 Olympics would be a template for the increasingly enormous trajectory of sports marketing, with the gradual expansion of the scale of such televised events as the Superbowl reaching exponential proportions. Multiple firms, some of them nowhere near as significant or recognizable as Coca-Cola, may well spend $30 million on a single half of football on Superbowl Sunday.
The expansion of the marketing industry around such trends has been considerable. “In March 2002, Street & Smith’s Business Journal ran a special report on ‘dollars in sports.’ Their research calculated that the sport industry represented about $196.64 billion in expenditures for 2001. An earlier economic study — with a different methodology — pegged the 1995 ‘gross domestic sport product’ at $152 billion, making sport the 11th largest industry in the American economy.” (Mullin et al., 7) Given the largely recreational nature of its consumer appeal, this is an incredible feat that has largely centered around the policy of the superstar icon. Individual figures have had such a dominant impact on the outlook for whole sports that the power of such icons and their related organizations to impact consumer trends, or to attract marketing interests seems to have few consumer segment limitations. Brands and logos become almost synonymous with individual athletes: Cal Ripken and Comcast Cable; Dan Marino and the NutriSystem Diet Program, Donovan McNabb and Chunky Campbell’s Soup; Peyton Manning and Capital One; Tiger Woods and Buick; Rusty Wallace and Geico; Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Service. These associations, just to name a very small percentage of them, have played a role in defining both how we as the public perceive the sports figure in question and how we perceive the brands and products or services there associated.
The result of this reciprocal relationship is a carefully schemed and wholly effective dissemination of sports icons and sporting events into the mainstream culture. Branding and marketing have made Kobe Bryant more recognizable to many for his McDonald’s commercials than for his championship-winning performances with the Los Angeles Lakers. But beyond what this represents to any one company or athlete, there are yet remarkable opportunities for economic prosperity on broad and even public levels in relation to the power of sports marketing. Beyond the specific association that is drawn between individual players and particular companies or products, there is a larger marketing impact commanded by those stars who loom with enough enormity or draw to actually expand the reach of a local sports market. Bringing a player of this caliber into an organization and city can have the impact of significantly expanding jersey and merchandise sales, ticket sales and concessions and other purchases magnified by robust event attendance. This in turn can become the rational basis for a marked expansion in a team’s ability to spend or invest in the improvement of facilities, team marketing and community relations. In this way, the pull of one powerful sports star can come with economic conditions that may be far-reaching. Over the span of a long enough time sample, it becomes more possible to trace a connection between the presence of certain athletic stars and such important moments for the organization as the ground-breaking for a new stadium.
For many cities, the construction of a new stadium and the negotiation for naming rights with a brokering bank — rife with additional opportunities for merchandising, billboard space and concession franchising — may constitute a multi-billion dollar economic stimulus package. This is to note that the long-term benefits of such a sports marketing apparatus are large in scope and diverse in nature. Beyond the correlation between the value of player personnel for stationary organizations, the construction of such facilities for unique sporting events can bear far-reaching economic effects for the locality. This is underscored in the article by Kartakoullis et al. (2005), which denotes that a primary example of this is the complex and enormous scale of planning, infrastructural renewal and structural development inherent to hosting the Olympic Games. Accordingly, “the experience of cities that have hosted the Olympic Games has demonstrated that, if they are carefully planned and promoted, they can generate significant growth over a long period of time.” (Kartakoullis et al., 1) Increased tourism, the establishment of new and permanent recreational facilities, the proliferation of greater hospitality services and the overall infusion of consumer and advertiser dollars into the local economy tend to contribute to an understanding of the enormous potential for sports marketing to constitute a genuine and even transformative economic force in the lifeblood of a city or region.
In its own evaluation of the opportunities before it if awarded the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, Athens Greece projected that its economy stood to benefit considerably across a scope of years well pas the time of the Olympic Games. To this end, “according to the central scenario of this study, the additional increase in the tourism, due to the Olympic Games, will come to 440 thousand, annually, for the period 1998-2011 or 6 million for the whole period. (Kartakoullis, 6) This would constitute an exponential increase in its popular draw as a tourist destination and would bring a great deal of prosperity to the economy, as well as justifying the considerable investment in the construction of facilities. As a case history on the subject of sports marketing, this is a demonstration of the justification for the massive investment which can be accumulated in attempting to expand one’s draw in this area.
In the above noted case of Athens, it is clear that sports marketing can be tantamount to the future economic well-being of a site and, perhaps as importantly, there is an indication here that the opportunities for drawing market opportunities out of sporting competition are numerous. This latter point is increasingly notable in the interest of a diverse range of media outlets in devoting a considerable degree of resource and attention to embracing the mainstream potential of sports. Highlighted in an article by Godinez (2007), another prominent example is the relationship between various professional sports leagues, teams and players and such sports-based video designers as EA Sports. This company’s marquis product is the annually released, NFL-sponsored Madden Football game. The video game features real players on real times and even incorporates real team playbooks and skill quotients into the game’s design. This accounts for an increasingly realistic gaming experience and elevated Madden ’08, released in August of 2007, to the top seller of all multiplatform media products in the week of its debut. The multiplatform distinction also illustrates the value of cross-media incorporation of sports, helping to bridge the gap between the broadcast world and . In a review for the 2007 Madden game, a critic notes that “while you can stream live SportsCenter audio updates or watch the ticker at the bottom of your screen, you can also delve into the menu and access real-world news updates on almost every major sport and read current print reports, listen to archived local radio broadcasts from the last few days . . .. And even watch video clips related to your team.” (Godinez, 1) This represents a leap in the medium of sports-based video gaming and also contributes to the permeation of sports figures into our everyday recognition. Thus, 2007’s rookie sensation quarterback Vince Young, appearing on the jacket of Madden ’08, would experience a considerable increase in notoriety and profitability. So too would his team, the Tennessee Titans, enjoy a rise in stature and profitability. The sales of the video would truly have the impact of improving box office returns for this featured team, and likely, for all of the teams which it has featured as top performers.
Ironically, and this will speak to one of the strange pitfalls of drawing an association between a product and a sporting figure, performance will have a genuine impact on the impression garnered vs. that desired. For EA Sports, the odd presence of the so-called “Madden Curse,” would denote that players appearing on the cover of the game as a result of stellar performance, often tend to experience a severe performance decline during the season for which they have been featured. Certainly, this is something that Vince Young would experience, with injury and ineptitude casting a pale over his Madden cover year. This calls into some scrutiny the gamble which is taken when an organization stakes its image on the shoulders of an athlete’s performance reliability and perceived prowess.
The selection of an athlete to sponsor a product simply based on the impression that he or she is a success and that he or she is available often denotes a failure to understand that which makes this a worthy investment of internal company resources. The expenditure of a sum of money which, depending upon the stature of the athlete can be quite considerable, with the expectation that this will inherently lead to better brand image and positive buying trends does not realistically acknowledge the principles of sports celebrity endorsement. Namely, the brand and target audience must be carefully considered as an athlete is selected so that there is a body of evidence based on local ticket sales, jersey and merchandise sales or even other endorsement deals to illustrate that the athlete in question does actually have the power to influence buying patterns and consumer behaviors. For instance, the affiliation between NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal and such products in the past as Reebok and Pepsi had been an intelligent match, acting upon the perception that the inbuilt audience and fanbase for the ready-made superstar amongst likely targets for sneakers and soft drinks made him a worthy investment and brand association.
By contrast, recent commercials featuring Shaquille O’Neal with actor and political commentator Ben Stein in support of Comcast cable may be perceived as casting too broad a net with a figure of a specific kind of appeal. O’Neal may well be one of the unique examples, like a Jordan or Woods, whose universal charisma and talent make him a useful sponsor for any and all products. However, the broadcast of the O’Neal/Stein commercials during non-sports related programming calls into question whether or not the massive sum of money likely spend securing O’Neal’s participation was a sound investment. Indeed, this points to one of the main imperatives for engaging in this study in general, which concerns whether or not the money spent on Shaquille O’Neal’s endorsement will have actually influenced cable package sign-up enough to be justified. The so-called ‘matchup effect’ discussed in the article by McDaniel implies that the value of that investment will be largely dependent on the degree to which the actually money spent on an endorsement is proportional to the profit induced by the increased sales stimulated by the selected endorser.
This discussion and much of what has been yielded by the literature review offers a compelling support for the use of celebrity endorsement where brand imaging has already been established or where insight suggests that brand image is likely to be achieved. However, it also demonstrates that especially in the latter pursuit, there is an inherent risk of failure, poor association or the investment in an image or individual that disappoints according to expectations for one reason or another. The uncertainty revealed and reinforced by this discussion serves as the impetus for the distribution of a survey instrument on the behalf of this study. The instrument whose findings will be elaborated here below, would be intended to address the gap in available data suggested by the literature review. By attempting to better understand consumer impressions and behaviors with relation to athletes in the endorsement business, the survey contributes something of value to the process of approaching this celebrity athlete endorsement strategy.
The focus of the survey, as demonstrated through its inclusion as Appendix A to this study, is designed to improve our understanding of the consumer and the consumer’s behavior tendencies with respect to public athletes and commercial endorsement. Therefore, the selection of findings discussed here is a qualitative synthesis of the most relevant and useful of response. The survey is designed on a Likert Scale, with most items providing a statement which asks the respondent to cite a degree of agreement or disagreement. This renders a data set which can be investigated qualitatively as is done here. However, such a survey instrument could also be extrapolated in a quantitative manner using the parameters of a Likert Scale to rank degrees of agreement through an incremental sequence of numbers.
For the purposes of the present study however, a broad analytical discussion on the responses of the 50 men and 50 women surveyed at a World Cup soccer game is more congruous in presentation with the literature review above. Suggestions for future studies or elaboration on this particular study might make use of the numerical capabilities of the survey instrument.
The most important finding to be yielded by the survey would be in the very interesting gap in response to two specific questions. Concerning Item 2 and Item 3 of the survey, the markedly different degree of responses would suggest a very strong pattern in terms of consumer self-impression. Item 2 asks “Do sports celebrities or advertisement of sports equipment by sports celebrities influence your purchasing decision?” Respondents were fairly centrally distributed with respect to this question. Indeed, only 7% of respondents claimed to “always” base purchasing decisions relating to sports equipment on the endorsement of celebrity athletes. Only 10% insisted that this was ‘never’ an influence in determining what sporting equipment to purchase. By an overwhelming contrast, 83% of respondents indicated that they ‘sometimes’ were influenced in their purchasing decisions by the use of athlete endorsement.
The middle ground strode in the responses to this question underscore some of the uncertainty discussed throughout the literature review. We may deduce based on what the literature provides to the study that such uncertainty is based on the variable factors of athlete performance, public reputation, charisma and proper fit to the product in question. This differs quite a bit from the response to Item 3. This asks, “Do you agree that advertising is more influential if it is associated with certain sports celebrities?” In spite of the fact that these respondents overwhelming indicated that they were only sometimes influenced by athletic endorsement, a dominant 95% of respondents identified themselves as ‘strongly agreeing’ that advertising is more influential when associated with sports celebrities. This reflects the view that the use of celebrity endorsement as a way to court consumers is generally effective. When considered in light of the responses to Item #2, it also suggests that consumers view a clear need for insight and careful selection where specific athletes are concerned.
The gap between responses here also suggests a distinction in the willingness of respondents to concur with the general claim that sports celebrity endorsement is an effective way to influence consumer behaviors but will generally be less likely to concede to be impacted thusly with the same universal certainty. This is underscored further by the response to such questions as that framed in Item #5. This asks respondents to answer the question, “Would you be more willing to buy a certain sports equipment if the endorsed product falls into the promoting sports celebrity’s field of expertise?” Though only 11% percent claimed to “strongly agree,” 54% claimed to “agree.” Additionally, 12% claimed not to know how they felt on the subject, suggesting the need for further information concerning the specific athlete and product or other mitigating factors as elaborated by the literature review. The response pattern to this question suggests that where the athlete has a demonstrated level of expertise in a specific sport, the endorsement of equipment appears to consumers to come from a qualified source.
Interestingly, this is a finding which is given a useful counterpoint in the response to Item #6. Here, respondents were asked, “Would you agree that celebrities promoting several products are losing credibility in regard to the promoted products?” Here, 12% reported to ‘strongly agree’ and 37% claimed to ‘agree.’ This would be a statistically significant and almost directly inverse pattern when compared to the responses on Item #5. Here, it appears that the instinct to reject the credibility of such endorsements when not associated properly to a product or organization is apparent in consumers.
In response to Question #1, which asked respondents, “Would you buy a sports equipment due to celebrity endorsement?,” the responses were somewhat evenly distributed. Amongst respondents, only 18% disagreed, with half of those checking off the mark next to ‘Disagree’ and the other half checking off the mark next to ‘Strongly Disagree.’ In contrast, 78% of respondents claimed to agree with the initiating prompt, with 21% of overall respondents claiming to “Strongly Agree.” An estimated 4% of respondents would respond with ‘Don’t Know.” The response to this question would suggest that where ‘sports equipment’ is the specified item being endorsed, there is a logical connection to consumers which dictates their greater likelihood to make a purchasing decision. This implies that the effectiveness of the method of sports celebrity endorsement may be impacted by the essential logic in the connection between endorser and product. The fact that consumers overwhelmingly agreed, in the frame of this survey, that sports equipment is more likely to be purchased with a celebrity endorsement suggests that members of the buying public are willing to make purchasing decisions based on the perception that an individual of expert status endorses the value and effectiveness of the product.
Question #4 provides an interesting way of delving into some of the complexities which may impact the relationship between sports celebrity endorsement and consumer. Here, respondents are asked to rate their agreement with the following prompt; “Do you agree that attractiveness of a sports athlete is an important factor for the effectiveness of an advertisement?” Here, the distribution of responses would be diffuse, with 19% of respondents indicating that they “Strongly Agree” with this statement. 23% claimed to “Agree” with the statement. Simultaneously, 26% checked a mark next to the “Disagree” line and 23% claimed to “Strongly Disagree.” A total of 10% of all respondents indicated that they “Don’t Know” the answer to this prompt. The findings with respect to this question are interesting because they are so widely and evenly distributed that it is almost impossible to decipher any meaningful conclusion on the subject. Though those who claim to disagree in some degree with the prompt slightly outnumber those who agree, the margin is not statistically significant enough to allow researchers to draw any concrete resolutions. Likewise, the fact that such a larger number of respondents felt that they did not know enough to answer to the prompt reinforces the complexity of the connection presumed by the research question between attractiveness and endorsement effectiveness.
Question #7 largely reiterates many of the previous questions here discussed which have investigated the degree to which respondents felt there was an intuitive or sensible relationship between sports celebrities and product endorsement. In this case, the question is framed somewhat differently to allow for a greater interpretive latitude. Respondents are asked, “what do you think about the concept of sports celebrities promoting products?
Responses here would range somewhat and would allow room for qualitative interpretation. 48% of respondents indicated that they felt that sports celebrity endorsement is a ‘Very Good’ concept. An additional 34% described the concept as “OK.” These two figures together suggest a general pattern of approval amongst respondents for the concept of sports celebrity product endorsement in and of itself. Only 17% described the concept as inherently “Not Good,” while a statistically negligible 1% indicated that they “Don’t Know” how to judge the concept.
Question #8 is, like Question #4, designed to provide a somewhat greater nuance to the discussion by attempting to determine why a sports celebrity may or may not be effective as a product endorser. Here, the question asks “would you agree that the effectiveness of the promotion of a product by the celebrity becomes more effective the better the respective sports celebrity is performing in his actual field of expertise?” The responses suggest a distinctly skewed outcome, with 67% of respondents claiming to “Strongly Agree” and another 24% claiming to “Agree.” 7% would claim to “Disagree” with another 2% reporting that they “Don’t Know” how best to respond to the prompt. No respondents claimed to “Strongly Disagree.” While this may be used as a basis to confirm the assumption of the prompt drawing a proportional connection between athletic performance and effectiveness as an endorser of products, it may also be reasonable to reflect on the bias inherent in the question. The extreme imbalance in response causes reflection on the use of such terms as “Would you agree,” which may have functioned to lead respondents toward expected rather than real responses.
Question #9 was perhaps the most effective in attempting to determine whether or not respondents themselves viewed their own purchasing decisions as being impacted by sports celebrities. Here, the question asked “does sports advertising with sports celebrities influence your purchasing decision of specific sports products?” In addition, the question demands that respondents answering “Yes” to the first prompt must identify one of four provided responses from the following: “Sympathy for the Athlete; Expertise of the celebrity in regard to the product’s performance; Feels as if you are supporting the sport; Trendsetter qualities of the celebrity / Taste of style of the celebrity.
To the initial prompt, 78% of respondents indicated that, Yes, sports advertising with sports celebrities does influence them toward specific purchasing decisions. The reasons for this would vary amongst respondents. Only 8% would site “Sympathy for the Athlete” and similarly, only 11% would identify the “Trendsetter/Style” impetus. However, 28% indicated that they had responded “Yes” due the desire to “support the sport.” The remaining 53% would indicate that the “Expertise” of the sports celebrity would be the reason for the affirmative response. This would be a significant and telling majority, reinforcing the finding on other questions which suggest that consumers perceive athletes as particularly qualified to speak to the quality of certain sports products.
Question #10 in the survey would be constructed to address another aspect of the discussion that is otherwise only marginally implied in the survey but is otherwise explored in the literature review. Namely, based on the presumption that there is a close correlation between the behavior or reputation of the sports celebrity and the effectiveness of his or her endorsement, this question asks of respondents, “Would you purchase a sports product promoted by a sports celebrity regardless of the celebrity’s professional and/or not professional behaviour?”
The responses here would also be telling. Accordingly, only 6% of respondents would agree unconditionally to the statement, most likely based on the definitive nature of the term “regardless of the celebrity’s professional . . . behaviour.” This seemed to imply to great a latitude for respondents, suggesting that they did accord some relationship between sports celebrity behavior and the ethical soundness of a company using said celebrity for endorsement purposes. Such is further reinforced by the 82% who responded “No” and the 12% who felt these conditions were too vague, and thus responded “Maybe.”
The general thrust of the literature review suggests that there are determinable benefits to using sports celebrities for product endorsement purposes but that there are also inherent risks. Findings in this part of the research process indicate that by and large, there is a normalcy to the use of sports celebrities in selling products which are related to sports activity, which are peripherally affiliated with sports and which are not affiliated with sports at all. This is to suggest that the approach taken by advertisers has been to act upon the impulse that there is a cultural permeation produced by the popularity and recognizable features of visible sports professionals that transcends even the interest level of their particular sport. To advertisers, there is a perception that the use of a sports celebrity whose personality appeal or performance excellence has endeared him or her to the public is sufficient to reap the benefits of endorsement. This is demonstrated in such aspects of the discussion as those which refer to Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, whose enormity has demonstrated them to be effective brand images even beyond the popularity or limitations of their respective sports. Thus, beyond functioning as excellent marketing mechanisms in concert with and to the benefit of their respective sports, both have established brand images that are independently successful and thus applicable to a wide array of otherwise irrelevant products and areas of consumer interest. Figures like Shaquille O’Neal have further parlayed such image success into a brand to be used not just in hawking soft drinks, fast food and sneakers but also in selling toys, movies and record albums all benefiting from his likeness or ‘artistic’ contributions. Such examples, though reserved for those of the highest degree of notoriety or success both as athletes and public personas, tend to underscore the motives that drive advertisers to reach out to consumers thusly.
To the research here, this review induces the believe that sports celebrities will generally tend to reflect qualities that are either envied or admired by the general buying public. Where this is the case, product endorsement may result in certain psychological effects that may not necessarily distort the buyer’s perception of his or her own likeness to the athlete in question, but will tend to promote an association of the positive qualities seen in the athlete with the product. Of course, as the review denotes, this can be something of a double edged sword for advertisers, who must contend with the danger that an athlete has either been poorly selected for the specific product in question or that the athlete’s reputation does not live up to the expenditure made by the advertiser. This may happen for a number of reasons, particularly owing to the athlete’s public behavior or relationship to the buying public. In those frequent instances through recent history in which athletes have been accused of misdeeds (Kobe Bryant), behaved in ways that have alienated the public (O.J. Simpson) or have been convicted of crimes (Michael Vick), the impact of having established an association to this athlete can be regarded as anything from a bad investment to a destructive blow to a company or product’s image. Typically, these negative effects can be absorbed by a company on the scale of McDonalds, Nike, Coca Cola or the host of other major brands that use athletes with a high level of public familiarity. This suggests that the potential risk in investing in certain public personas is perhaps one best taken by those companies possessed in the financial resources to recuperate and, in eventuality, erase public perception of this image association. Indeed, for those companies that in years passed had used the once-popular O.J. Simpson to endorse their products, the disgraced former footballer would reflect negatively on image and judgment. Largely today though, those effects have been erased by years of rehabilitative advertising distancing and eventually removing such an association.
This is a complex aspect of the issue which points to the findings of the survey used by researchers in this process. Namely, the survey functions as a supplement to the literature review findings which report on the experiences of advertisers. Taking the approach of surveying potential consumers on their feelings relating to the subject, findings differed slightly. This is true at least insofar as the findings indicated a correlation between the image or behavior of an athlete and the effectiveness of his or her association to a specified product. Indeed, the findings in this part of the research process denoted a distinct correlation between the athlete’s performance quality, reputation and correlation to the product in question. The synthesized findings from the survey suggest first and foremost that there is a significant causative relationship between the athlete’s performance quality and the likelihood of the buyer to purchase a sports product which he or she endorses.
The findings also allow us to make the conclusion that this is because, most primarily, consumers trust the expertise of those athletes who have achieved a certain reliable degree of success within their field. Also, there is a demonstrated correlation between the degree to which an individual admirers an athlete and to which the individual desires to support the sport in which this athlete is a noted performer. These are findings which suggest to advertisers that there is a close connection between the athlete who is selected to represent the product and the degree to which this representation strikes a cord of credibility with potential buyers.
Other findings in the survey indicated moreover that consumers are wary of the reputations and behaviors of athletes, and that potential buyers could not preclude the possibility that behaviors demonstrated in the athlete might incline them not to make certain purchases. Indeed, the survey phraseology indicated that respondents were unwilling to commit to the condition of making purchasing decisions fully independent of the behavior of the athlete. This is a finding which should also be considered compelling to advertisers, indicating another area in which selectivity must be exercised in determining whether or not an athlete is a proper fit to one’s product or company identity.
In concert with the literature review which denotes a direct connection between the ability of a company to absorb this risk based on size and resource availability and the degree of risk or relevance indicated by the athlete in question, advertisers can conclude that this is an endorsement approach which must be entered into judiciously and selectively.
To resolution, in the discussion here the literature review and survey have addressed a spectrum of implications concerning sports figure sponsorship including; the broad economic realities related to sports marketing such as the scale, scope and consequence of its permeation to so many aspects of life; an evaluation of its relationship to shared social values such as the selection of role models, the ambition for competitive success and an identification with either team or individual goal orientation; the public health consequences both positive and negative concerning the proclivity of members of the public to identify with sporting figures and the goals related to achievement in sports. Most importantly though, the marketing principles which are emergent in this discussion carry a great weight in terms of the relevance or appropriateness of sports celebrities as product or company endorsers. The sum accomplishment of the research here conducted is to promote a greater discretion and effectiveness for companies and advertisers making such decisions.
The resolution induced by a pairing of the data gathered from the survey and the findings considered in the literature review concerns not the effectiveness of sports celebrity endorsement, which is somewhat self-evident if done properly. Instead, the findings yield the recommendation that celebrity athletic endorsement be carefully selected and effectively used. Various marketing principles enter into the approach taken toward sports celebrity endorsement primarily concerning the public image carried by an athlete, the uncertainty in correlation between performance and image and the danger of critically mismatching an athlete with a product, company, resource availability or intended audience.
It is clear that there are fundamental benefits to the use of celebrity athletes in the endorsement of products and companies, though this is an investment with some intangible realities due for consideration. Therefore, an interest in this approach must be underscored by careful consideration, sensible selection and a rational association of traditional marketing principles with an understanding of the complexities unique to sports marketing.
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