PRIOR LAKE, Minn.— In the first hour after U2’s Super Bowl commercial debut, its new single, “Invisible,” reached over one million downloads, all of them free.
By midnight, the song had been downloaded over three million times. And thanks to U2’s Project (RED), Bank of America donated over $3 million to the Global Fund, which provides HIV/AIDS treatments to the world’s poorest countries.
With successful money-raising campaigns like this one, it makes sense that highly visible figures show up on front pages and in article photos of these organizations. Other charities are working with pop culture personalities as well, and have been for a long time. Celeb endorsements have been around for as long as advertising. But why do these organizations turn to celebrities to be their voice?
It is because celebrities sell and the ones with the largest audiences will be seen the most.
“In our society, celebrities act like a drug,” James Houran said, a psychologist at HVS Executive Search. “They’re around us everywhere.”
And every tabloid magazine and social network caters to this. Celebrities are nothing new, but the way that they are able to communicate with today’s technology gives them a vastly larger audience.
When the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) called for aid to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan hit in late 2013, David Beckham made a Facebook message about it to his 32 million followers. Angelina Jolie’s July tweets about the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan reached her 72,000 followers.
A passionate celebrity can provide an audience with their followers on social networking platforms. This success is attributed to the intrinsic credibility of a well-spoken person. Their ability to draw attention to the issues, advocating for social and political issues is a common focal point. If you involve a leader, then you will involve their followers.
David Guetta and Usher’s music video “Without You,” which promotes awareness about the hunger crisis in Sahel on YouTube, spreads the message with over one million views. Seth Godin presented the idea of modern-day tribes in his 2009 TED Talks presentation. Leaders pass on ideas to those that follow them, who will pass that idea on to others in their groups, and so on until that idea reaches so many people it turns into “something far bigger than ourselves, it becomes a movement.” It is the idea that someone tells five people, and those five each tell five more, but on a scale equivalent to celebrity fanaticism.
There are a multitude of reasons why people follow actors and musicians. One is to stay savvy of the social scene and not be isolated from social circles.
“Celebrity worship, at its heart, seems to fill something in a person’s life,” James Houran said. Whether searching for identity or the social need, celebrities make news, which raises a following for them. And celebrities try to cultivate this following because it raising their own prominence.
This importance and relevance of a specific person is a reason why charities work alongside them, to raise money and awareness for their campaigns.
But is it enough?
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) receives a budget just over $30 billion to run its aid programs, compared to the U.S. military spending, roughly $660 billion. It’s an incredibly small percentage of the congressional budget; less than 1% goes to foreign aid. Bank of America’s $3 million donation is a drop in the bucket. But lots of drops will add up.
Large-scale involvement is what donation-based aid can do to raise money and reach people, and endorsements from celebrities are a way to do this. With a strong combination of public interest and a wide audience, the vast coverage and speed an actor or musician can give a cause is a great asset to organizations building up drive.
– Matthew Erickson