Just days before the UK/EU referendum, David Beckham "broke the internet" by announcing on Facebook that he will be backing the campaign to stay within the EU. Following the announcement, the news trended on Twitter for most of the day racking up almost 75,000 tweets in the last twenty-four hours.
Independent experts have responded with contradictory reactions to the news, with the managing director of Ipsos Mori claiming that there is "no clear evidence endorsements like these have any impact." At the other end of the spectrum, writers at the Independent questioned whether Beckham’s announcement could "spark a constitutional crisis".
Whatever the outcome, as media professionals it’s important to understand the impact that these superstars have on public opinion, and whether – in an age of audience cynicism – celebrity endorsements still play a role in the wider PR and marketing mix.
The end of endorsement?
Since his retirement, Beckham has become one of the most popular celebrity spokespeople, promoting everything from trainers to sodas to video games. He is now considered one of the only celebrities to have earned more since leaving his professional career – racking up over $75m in endorsements, products and sponsorship deals in the last year.
Despite brands queuing up for Beckham’s endorsement, the public response to his announcement has generally been negative, with many asking 'What’s my vote got to do with you?'
Following Beckham’s announcement Visibrain’s analysis shows that most voters were either unaffected or unimpressed by his involvement.
As such, the question marketers should be asking is this: Will this change in tone be exclusive to politics, or part of a wider UK trend?
If consumers have begun to wonder why celebrities should have a say in their political decisions, will they also begin to wonder why they have a say in their choice between Pepsi and Coke?
Possibly the biggest driver for this shift has been the accessibility of celebrities on social media, and in particular, on Twitter. By having access to the unedited comments of these spokespeople on a daily basis, they now appear more human and, ultimately, more fallible. By getting a glimpse of their real personalities online, celebrities’ carefully scripted PR and advertising appearances have come to seem all the more falsified.
This is the shift that we as media professionals must be aware of; sponsored endorsements are no longer enough to influence modern consumers. In the age of Twitter, if a celebrity is to endorse a product it must come naturally through genuine appreciation and personal use.
In posting his personal views on Facebook, Beckham kicked off a storm of positive and negative responses, closely followed by a significant boost in media attention. While not all of that attention was positive, Beckham’s endorsement was at least seen as 100 per cent genuine.
This is the key lesson that both marketers and brands must learn: That in the internet age a mixed response is far better than accusations of hypocrisy. Attempting to fully control the narrative is futile, so it’s best to just be honest and take a stand.
From Beckham, to American Apparel, to FCUK – today’s brands can be controversial, they can even be divisive, but they have to be genuine.
Georgina Parsons is head of communications at Visibrain