Young people in the UAE not influenced by celebrity endorsements

According to research carried out by Mari Ouhan, a marketing student at Abu Dhabi University, people aren’t so easily taken in, with their perception of a celebrity’s expertise playing a bigger role than simply their good looks or fashion sense.

Abu Dhabi University marketing student Mari Ouhan was the only undergraduate researcher representing the region at the Association of Collegiate Marketing Educators Conference in Dallas in March. Christopher Pike / The National
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ABU DHABI // Young consumers in the UAE are not easily persuaded to part with their hard-earned cash simply by seeing their favourite singers or movie stars drinking a particular type of cola or wearing a trendy brand of sports shoes.

According to research carried out by Mari Ouhan, a former marketing student at Abu Dhabi University, people are not so easily influenced by a famous face. Their perception of a celebrity’s expertise and credibility plays a bigger role than superficial attributes such as good looks or fashion sense.

Ms Ouhan presented her research into the impact of celebrity endorsements in advertising at the Association of Collegiate Marketing Educators Conference in Dallas, Texas, in March, and it was chosen as the best research paper at the gathering.

The 23-year-old Syrian, who graduated last May and works at Brand and Beyond in Abu Dhabi, was the only undergraduate researcher representing the region at the conference. Her research, which included input from more than 200 students, found a surprising lack of attention paid to celebrities used in advertising unless they could back up their endorsement of a product.

“The students said they relied more on the expertise of the celebrities to be convinced,” Ms Ouhan said. “If they saw Michael Schumacher advertising a sports car they would realise the link between him and the car. He has an expertise and they consider him a credible source and would rely on this.”

Ms Ouhan said the findings showed young people were not as easily swayed as people think.

“It was surprising that the people in Abu Dhabi University don’t rely on the attractiveness of the celebrity doing the endorsement, as is usually found,” she said. “That for me was shocking because it usually plays a part, but from my findings, people were more convinced by expertise than beauty.”

Dr Kamal El Hedhli, Ms Ouhan’s supervisor, said he had been surprised by her findings.

“Usually in the region, literature shows consumers, even for high-end goods like cars, are driven by emotion, purchasing things as a social statement, for prestige or self esteem, while in the West, research has proven there are many steps of information people seek before they buy something, not merely buying it due to a celebrity endorsement, even if they are credible, as Michael Schumacher would be to a car,” he said.

This does not mean there is no value in using a celebrity to try to boost sales, said Ms Ouhan, as brands regularly spend millions of dollars each year attaching sports stars, actors and musicians to their products. But to give a celebrity endorsement the best chance of reaching its audience, it must be chosen carefully.

Dr El Hedhli gave the example of Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram, who endorses brands such as Sony Ericsson and Coca-Cola, and has greater impact in the region than a western star.

“To sell Coca-Cola, Nancy Ajram is more effective here than someone like Britney Spears or Madonna, as people relate to her,” he said. Such local empathy led Audi to name Hala Kazim, an Emirati motivational speaker who was recently honoured in the Mohammed bin Rashid Awards for Young Business Leaders, as a brand ambassador.

A 2012 study at the University of Colorado Boulder also questioned the value of celebrity endorsements, with negative perceptions of a celebrity often reflecting badly on the brand.

“In three different studies, negative celebrity associations always transferred to an endorsed brand, even under conditions when positive associations did not,” said lead researcher Margaret C Campbell, from the university’s Leeds School of Business. “The overall message to marketers is be careful because all of us, celebrities or not, have positives and negatives to our personalities and those negatives can easily transfer to a brand.”