SALT LAKE CITY — For years, R.C. Wiley has been using celebrities to endorse their products, from former Jazz coach Frank Layden to retired NBA star Tom Chambers.
So it's no wonder that the local furniture giant R.C. Wiley recently turned to Paige Davis, actress and host of "Trading Spaces" to raise awareness of the company's brand and image.
"Celebrities get people's attention more than a CEO or a professional," said Clark Yospe, marketing vice president for R.C. Wiley.
While companies have been pushing products through endorsements since Chuck Taylor donned a sneaker, today's celebrities are using media for a different purpose: to affect change and impact social issues, from Charlton Heston's support of the NRA to Scarlett Johansson's appearance in a commercial for Planned Parenthood. But without real expertise, experts say, a celebrity's input may only be worth two cents.
Klout, a website that measures an individual's social-media influence, reports that actor and social-media guru Ashton Kutcher has "the largest, most engaged audience possible" following his Twitter account. According to the website, Kutcher has a "true reach," or a total number of engaged followers, of nearly 3 million. The number is based on how many followers shared or acted upon Kutcher's posted content.
The "That 70s Show" actor has tackled issues like human trafficking on his Twitter page, which has more than 7 million followers.
Celebrities like Alec Baldwin and Lady Gaga flooded Twitter with rejoice when gay marriage passed in New York.
But can celebrities with influence, like Kutcher and Baldwin, shift the opinion of millions with a tweet, cameo or comment?
Craig Frizzell, a political science lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, doesn't think so.
He said the likelihood of a star swaying public opinion is greater depending on how influential the celebrity is to the individual. Also, if an individual who doesn't follow the government closely sees a celebrity who seems knowledgeable speak about politics, then they may be more likely to listen.
Overall, however, a celebrity has little power to change social policies.
"Politicians are still going to be more concerned with keeping their constituents happy than what a celebrity thinks," Frizzell said. "Our reception of information is so colored by previously held beliefs that it is unlikely that a celebrity will change someone's opinion."
Frizzell said the only thing celebrity endorsement typically affects is the amount of awareness of an issue.
Susan K. Whitbourne, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, disagrees.
She wrote a recent blog post for Pyschology Today on a study conducted by a team of Dutch researchers on why famous faces sell.
In the study, a group of young women were shown images of shoes coupled with faces of celebrities and pictures of the same shoes with non-famous women. The areas of the brain involving emotional stimuli were more likely to be activated when the product was coupled with a famous and familiar face, illustrating the transfer of positive feelings between stars and products.
Whitbourne said that the same emotional connection can occur with social issues, thus influencing opinions.
She acknowledges that celebrities can create more public awareness about social issues, which she thinks can be beneficial to people who would otherwise remain ill informed.
In her article, she provides a series of suggestions to avoid a situation where feelings cloud judgment, which include understanding the difference between fame and expertise and turning off your emotions when making purchasing decisions.
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