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Celebrity endorsement: Genuine good deed or PR recovery effort?

By SEC Newgate team
15 November 2022
Consumer Campaigns & B2B

By Jessica Grattan

Last week we saw global superstar and former member of boy band One Direction, Zayn Malik, write an open letter to Rishi Sunak asking for immediate action on free school meals for families on Universal Credit.

According to a recent release from the Child Poverty Action Group, it is estimated that 800,000 children in England are living in poverty and do not currently qualify for free school meals.

Is Malik just the latest celeb to follow in the footsteps of Marcus Rashford and Jamie Oliver in support of the cause? Or is he doing damage control in the wake of some seriously negative public opinions?

Many may have seen late last year, the claims that Malik allegedly struck his ex-girlfriend’s mother, Yolanda Hadid, during an altercation. Not only did it result in the conclusion of his relationship and some parental custody issues but critically damaged his reputation.

This begs the question; is Celebrity endorsement a trailblazer's genuine way of creating impact, or a desperate cry for help?

As marketers, we understand the weight a celebrity endorsement can carry when supporting a brand. The right brand ambassador creates trust with consumers and, thus, has a positive impact on their purchasing decisions. Celebrity endorsement can also play a key role in improving a brand’s value and has the potential to increase sales by up to 4 per cent according to research by Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse and Barclays Capital analyst Jeroen Verleun.

Advertisers have been maximising the voice of celebrities for years. In the 1930s, baseball legend Babe Ruth was one of the first people paid to endorse a brand - Red Rock Cola. The trend has been going strong ever since, with athletes, musicians, and actors, raking in millions to promote consumer goods.

But when there isn’t money involved, how do we know that it's not just a ‘good faith’ PR ploy? The indicators I look for are consistency, longevity and authenticity. It’s not believable for a celebrity to pull a 180 and do something completely out of character. We need to genuinely feel their connection to the cause.

But can we fault celebrities for pursuing avenues of good deeds to correct the wrongdoings they have embarrassed their fans with?

In the court of my opinion, authenticity is key. Zayn Malik grew up in inner-city Bradford, West Yorkshire, and was one of many children who relied on free school lunches. He knows first-hand the stigma surrounding food insecurity and the direct impact it had on his own physical and mental health.

In response to his public letter, a government spokesperson said "We have expanded access to free school meals more than any other government in recent decades, which currently reach 1.9 million children.

"We are also investing up to £24 million in our National School Breakfast Programme, which provides free breakfasts to children in schools in disadvantaged areas.”

I say rock on Zayn and keep fighting the good fight because clearly, it's getting traction amongst those who matter.