A small boy prefers to wear a business shirt just like his dad’s, a little girl slips on her mother’s heels, throws a handbag over her arm and prances through the living room. A dog sits at its master’s feet staring with intent into their eyes, hoping for reward.
A young adult chooses the frame their favourite celebrity wears in the hope they’ll be recognised for their style, perhaps even earn a compliment.
According to US psychologist Dr. James Houran, “Cultural anthropological and historical studies show us that human societies have always had a need to ‘worship’ things — and sure enough this was often special people in society — the best hunters, athletes, the most beautiful, the smartest, the most spiritual.”
It stands to reason. We are social animals, so naturally we feel most comfortable when a social hierarchy defines those at the top and those at the bottom of the pecking order – i.e. the role models we look to for guidance and those we shun and highlight as ‘how not to live your life’ to our children.
However, today celebrities are worshipped more than ever before and they’re not only the stars of the silver screen. According to Stuart Fischoff, an emeritus professor of media psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, thanks to the plethora of channels in which we can communicate – movies, televisions, newspapers, bloggers, Instagrammers, there is an explosion of “celebrity possibilities”.
Take for example, editors of fashion, arts and sports publications, who have the power to influence their readers by endorsing particular brands and styles in their content and wearing particular brands to high profile events. Even some politicians with former cult status, like Peter Garrett, have the power to influence.
Those alpha males and females plastered across magazines and newspapers, taking space on our Facebook pages and Twitter feeds and filling the screens of our television and movie theatres have the power to influence pretty much every aspect of our lives – from what we eat, to the music we choose to listen to, the colloquialisms we speak, the thoughts that run through our minds and the clothes and glasses we wear.
The Need to Connect
Such is the power of technology in our world, that today’s fans feel they know and ‘understand’ their celebrities better than ever before. Through gossip media we see these people at their best and their worst – photos of stumbling celebs after a long night at the Oscars after parties, heading to the gym, kicking a ball with their kids in the playground or embraced in the arms of not so secret lovers. The distance between fans and celebrities has narrowed and as a result, fans can emulate many aspects of their lives.
Some scientists believe that along with the power of technology, another reason for the escalation of celebrity worship is an increase in narcissism.
“People high in narcissism tend to embrace celebrity even more,” says Cooper Lawrence, an expert on celebrity culture and fame and author of the book The Cult of Celebrity.1 “A narcissist believes they are entitled to a certain way of treatment and a certain lifestyle, and who emulates that lifestyle more than a celebrity?”
Ms. Cooper claims that progressive parenting could be partly responsible for the rise in narcissism.
“Baby boomers and Gen-X parents are so afraid of ruining the self-esteem of their children. Everybody gets a trophy and my daughter is special; everybody has to be treated the same way,” she said in an article published in LiveScience.2
“It’s causing more narcissism because it’s telling a kid you don’t have to do anything to be successful, you just have to be wonderful fabulous you. They’re great just for being born.”
Of course some people are more influenced by celebrities than others and Dr. Houran says this comes down to personality and environmental factors.
He believes that people who are egocentric or who have personality traits such as irritability, impulsivity and moodiness are more susceptible to celebrity influence than others. People who are shy can find it easier to connect with a celebrity than with people in the real world. And interestingly, the influences of that celebrity connection – for example on their choice of eyewear or clothing – may help them build confidence.
People who are going through an identity crisis due to a significant change in their life – for example, loss of a job, divorce or death of a partner, can also be more easily influenced by a celebrity.
And teenagers, in the process of establishing their own identity are particularly susceptible to celebrity influence – you just have to walk down the street to see all the Katy Perry and Pharrell Williams look-a-likes to get the picture.
“Celebrity worship, at its heart, seems to fill something in a person’s life,” says Dr. Houran. “It gives them a sense of identity, a sense of self. It feeds a psychological need.”3
Hard Won Endorsements
The power of celebrity is massive, and don’t celebrities know it. Those brands that want to have celebrity endorsement need to work hard to even get celebrity attention in the first place.
Every day of the week celebrities from across the spectrum are inundated with free gifts of product in the vague hope they’ll be photographed and published wearing it.
Even lucrative commercial offers are heavily vetted before being accepted to ensure the brand or the product to be worn fits in with the brand that’s been developed for the celebrity.
And so we come full circle and realise that those brands worn by celebrities really do have both the kudos and the power to massively influence your customers and build your sales.
1. Skirt! Publishing, 2009