Celebrity Advocacy, Social Media and International Development

I have always wondered how much attention celebrity news and news sites like The VIP Roll get. But on the other hand, it isn’t always reflected on celebrity videos. I was preparing a lecture the other day on the use of social media by International NGOs. During my research I watched a lot of videos on Youtube and I noticed how few views many of the celebrity videos had received.

One good example is a group of videos called “What could you buy with 50 pence” made by ActionAid with celebrities including Gabby Logan, Katherine Kelly, Sarah Alexander, Fay Ripley and Mark Watson. Now I’m not big on celebrities and I don’t even know who 2 of these people are, however, what I noticed was how each video had received hardly any views. Mainly the early hundreds, some lower. I wondered to myself – how much does it cost to produce these videos? I don’t know the answer. I presume that the celebrities offer their services free of charge. I’m sure they do. But do they get expenses? If so, how much does it cost to get 5 “celebs” into a studio? How much did the film crew get? How much was editing etc. At the end of the day – was it worth it?


I then found a video by Robbie Williams on the UNICEF channel. I’ve heard of Robbie Williams 🙂 I was amazed that it had less than 5000 views (at the time of writing). Surely with Robbie’s fan base it would attract more views and shares than this via social media? Obviously not. Again, how much did it cost to shoot? Don’t get me wrong it may be very cheap. But what is the return on investment (ROI)? What is the main objective of the video? Robbie’s film has a clear call to action to donate money to Soccer Aid. The film is also educational. Maybe UNICEF are happy with the results? Again I don’t know the answer.

So after seeing these videos and plenty more I started to wonder – Is celebrity endorsement for International Development a good thing? I was then kindly sent a case study on UNICEF about their campaign #SahelNOW and how it was endorsed by Selena Gomez. Her video has had nearly 50,000 views. She has nearly 14 million followers on Twitter and each Tweet about the campaign was retweeted around 5,000 times. I won’t go into all the detail here but the campaign was a resounding success. If you want to see more stats there’s a great slideshare – #SahelNOW: Sound the Alarm, One Million Children at Risk.

So celebrity endorsement does work, esecially when you have an ‘A’ lister who’s dating Justin Beiber (at the time). There are plenty of other success stories about celebrity endorsement via social media. You just have to look at #Kony2012.

Anyway, today I was talking to my colleague about celebrity endorsement and he kindly guided me to some work by Dan Brockington who researches Celebrity and Development. His blog is well worth perusing. The research isn’t complete yet but there are some early findings, one of which is that celebrities are often the winners of charity advocacy. That’s a discussion for another day….

2 thoughts to “Celebrity Advocacy, Social Media and International Development”

  1. Interesting post and thanks for the shout out.

    I cannot see how do you draw this conclusion:

    ‘So celebrity endorsement does work, especially when you have an ‘A’ lister who’s dating Justin Beiber (at the time).’

    from your data. If some videos are not getting much attention (including major stars) and some are, and if number of views is your criterion of ‘working’, then you cannot conclude that ‘it works’. You can only conclude that it ‘works’ some of the time. Moreover there are 25k+ celebrities out there on the contact databases (the UK contact databases) and by definition a tiny minority are a-listers. So if you need an A lister to make it ‘work’ then it most of the time it will not, because most celebrities who do most endorsements are not a-listers.

    In fact the people (NGO celebrity liaison officers) I’ve talked to stress that you do not necessarily need an a-lister (see the ‘getting it’ paper on my website). But then they have a tighter definition of what they are trying to get the celebrity to do, and what working means.

    Alternatively you could argue that these small numbers of views are evidence of these videos working because they are working well as narrow casting (see Thrall et al’s paper on this). For that you would have to show that the message is getting out to its target audience. Unlikely, I admit, that they targeted a small audience when working with Mr Williams but you never know.

    Hope you don’t mind the challenge! Please could you send me the UNICEF case study?



  2. Hi Dan thanks for the comments. I don’t mind the challenge at all. In fact I agree with you. I should have said “So celebrity endorsement does work some of the time.” My conclusion is based on a very small sample of videos that I have watched during my research, but its a fascinating area. I would love to know how much it costs NGOs to film celebrities whether they are ‘A’ listers OR ‘celebs’ from ‘Celebrity Big Brother’. What is the ROI?

    Case study was possibly a bit grand for the UNICEF information, most of the information I have been sent is also in the link above. Mainly facts and figures about the power and reach of Selena Gomez’s tweets.

    I will be reading your blog posting on ‘getting it’ this weekend.

    Thanks for the feedback!

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