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Do endorsements affect credibility?

Blog: Consumer

2/6/2015
— Ilza van Zyl 

I love comedian John Oliver’s weekly YouTube shows because he touches on relevant and interesting subjects such as McDonalds’ transparency campaign, “Our Food. Your Questions”, which aims to gain customers’ trust through transparency and engagement. The public is given the opportunity to ask McDonalds questions (or rather to ask a giant billboard questions), which McDonalds answers on its website or via videos.

To add to the supposed transparency, Grant Imahara, co-host of Mythbusters, was to investigate the questions to boost the campaign’s credibility. This made me wonder how objective Grant is since he is investigating the company that, I assume, pays him to investigate. Surely it wouldn’t risk being independently investigated on the tough questions, such as those about the pink slime? Or, as John Oliver puts it, perhaps Grant is “independently investigating the company paying him to conduct an independent investigation”, adding that there’s something suspicious about McDonalds investigating the fact that its food is made out of food.

So, this is the topic up for debate: Is there a way for brands to use celebrity endorsements without paying said celebrities?

Take Woolworths, for example. At the start of 2014, it recruited Reuben Riffel, one of SA’s top chefs, to contribute to its official blog. I assume this endorsement did not come without a price tag and I feel that credibility was lost. Did Reuben use Woolies’ products because he really believed them to be the best or did he only use them because Woolies was paying him to?

These are not isolated events. Brands use celebrity endorsements all the time. During the 2014 Grammy’s, host Ellen De Generes used a Samsung phone throughout the night, since Samsung was an event sponsor. She tweeted live from stage and took backstage photos. Yet, when looking at her Twitter feed, she was still using her iPhone while backstage. Ellen has made it clear that she prefers Apple products so how are we to believe she endorses Samsung when she doesn’t use its products because she wants to?

Companies are constantly seeking new ways to reach their audiences and using celebrity endorsements is a great way to do this. But strategic planning must be put into such an endorsement. 

If Samsung convinced Ellen to start using its product (subtly) in October 2013, no one would have doubted her loyalty to the brand in March 2014. If Woolies convinced Reuben to start using its products in his live shows, no doubt would be cast when he started blogging for the brand.

I’m not sure celebrity endorsement works for McDonalds. It should find other ways to re-establish trust in the quality of its food – perhaps through education initiatives around where its beef and chicken actually comes from and how those animals are treated. Although the Our Food. Your Questions concept is spot on, the execution is not and this could cause more harm than good to the brand.

* Intern Insights is a series of blogs written by interns on their learnings and experiences in Waggener Edstrom’s Johannesburg office as well as their thoughts on the industry

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