Pros and cons of celebrity endorsement

Neil Young’s recent tour to raise awareness for the environmental issues surrounding the oil sands in Alberta should be of great interest to all strategic communications practitioners.

Often we’re asked by our clients to find a celebrity whose notoriety will help to bring public attention to a worthy cause, in hopes the celebrity’s fame will add credibility to that cause and the people who champion it. The same goes for celebrity endorsements of products and services. The thinking is that if Neil Young is for it, and you like Neil Young, then you’ll also be in favour of what he’s supporting.

I like Neil Young and I admire what he is doing in trying to get Canadians focused on the environmental challenges associated with oil extraction and delivery out West. But more than what he’s saying about the oil sands, I like that he’s taking a stand. I like that he’s ruffling feathers. And more importantly, I’m glad that no matter what you think of his position, he’s getting people to talk about sustainability.

Some people are outraged by what he said on tour, but no matter. The point of this celebrity endorsement was to kick-start a conversation. Mission accomplished.

It’s interesting that another musician, Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy, also let his opinion be known on CBC over the weekend. It’s more balanced, but as emphatic about the need to engage in a national conversation about environmental and social issues.

Two different national icons.Two different approaches. But the outcome is the same. Now, let’s see if this celebrity endorsement thing really works, and by that I mean, is anyone in the political realm listening?




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