How celebrity endorsements work – meanings transfer explanation

With the weaknesses of the previous models being championed; a perspective introduced by McCracken (1989) has been used as an alternative explanation. According to this school of thought celebrity endorsers bear symbolic meanings that drive effectiveness in the endorsement processes (Erdogan, 1999). In the perspectives of McCracken (1989), culture and its categories such as age and gender were noted to be some of the important meanings that could be transferred but other aspects such as class and status could also bear some symbolism that audiences associate with (Erdogan, 1999).

According to McCracken (1989) “celebrity endorsement is…a special instance of a more general process of meaning transfer” (p. 313). In line with this supposition the meaning is advanced to start with an aspect “resident in the culturally constituted world” then progresses to “consumer goods and finally to the life of the consumer” (McCracken, 1989, p. 313). With the celebrity perspective the transfer is advanced to progress in three stages (see appendix). First the meaning (e.g. cultural orientation, sex, age) that is associated with a particular person confers the right to that person to endorse a particular product (McCracken, 1989; Khatri, 2006). In the case of celebrities; though other persons – ‘anonymous endorsers’ – could offer culturally constituted meaning such as demographic information, McCracken (1989) notes that these would not offer such in an equal precision and power as the celebrities do (p. 315). Further celebrities would bring other ‘meanings’ that have been transferred from previous roles such as performances to the product (McCracken 1989).

It is the transfer of these meanings to the product that forms the second stage of the transfer process (McCracken 1989). Appropriately then advertisers must strategize their campaign in such a way that all meanings brought along by the celebrity endorser are tapped into the product (McCracken 1989). Once this happens the final stage explains the transfer of the meanings that the product has received from the celebrity into the customer. McCracken (1989) in this aspect notes that it is not merely through the purchase that a customer owns these meanings but rather by claiming, exchanging, caring for and using the product (p. 317). And how does the celebrity factor in the last stage? It is argued that by the fact that the celebrities “have created the self” and flaunted it unabatedly to become “attractive and accomplished”, the celebrity serves as the example and the inspiration to the consumer to acquire the meanings in the product for oneself (McCracken 1989, p. 317).

Other studies have argued out the antecedents and process of meanings transfer. Hirschman (1980), for instance advances the establishment and introduction of meanings to be through the production process (as cited in Erdogan, 1999). Domzal and Keman (1992) also propose that advertising is one way through which social systems pass on the culturally developed- product meanings to consumers (as cited in Erdogan, 1999). And it is in the second stage that Tom, et al. (1992) propose the product’s personality to take root which must be transferred to the consumers – in the third stage – if the endorsement is to prove effective (Erdogan, 1999). Accordingly various studies (two of them by Langmeyer & Walker, 1991) have evaluated the workability of meanings transfer model and found it to hold (Erdogan, 1999). Go to part 8 here.

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