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Seeing Stars – How Celebrities are Used in Magazine Advertising

Think celebrities are overused in the world of print advertising?

Then you'd be surprised to know that recent research done at San Diego State University (SDSU) indicates that only about 10 percent of magazine advertising incorporates the use of a celebrity. In fact, traditional women's magazines (Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, Redbook) feature celebrities in only six percent of their display advertising.

These were just part of the findings by SDSU researchers, Dr. George Belch and Dr. Michael Belch, both of whom are professors in the university's marketing department. They published their research on the use of celebrities in magazine advertising in a recent issue of International Journal of Advertising.


The research examined advertising in 37 magazines to explore the use celebrities in the ads. Only those display ads that covered ΒΌ of the page or more were considered for the study.

Celebrities were categorized as athletes/coaches, actors/actresses, entertainers, business executives, supermodels, sportscasters/commentators, news personalities, authors/writers, and others. The researchers also counted the number of people who were non-celebrities that were featured in the ads as well.

Some surprising results

By far, the most prevalent use of celebrities was in magazines targeted to teens and sports magazines. 

Celebrities appeared in 19 percent of the ads run in teen magazines while 16 percent of the total ads in sports publications featured a celebrity.

"Women were more than twice as likely to be used in ads than men, with women appearing in 1081 ads and men in 515 ads." - George Belch

In fact, celebrities were used most often in ESPN the Magazine (32 percent of ads) and Sports Illustrated (26 percent of ads), the vast majority of which were athletes promoting athletic products, followed by fashion apparel and then, jewelry/accessories. Overall, the research revealed that 20 percent of athletic products advertised in magazines featured a celebrity.

And while these findings may be somewhat predictable, the number of women – celebrities and non-celebrities – were used in a surprisingly large number of the ads featuring people. "Of the 2,358 ads appearing in the 37 magazines analyzed in this study, 68 percent had one or more persons in them," said George Belch. "Women were more than twice as likely to be used in ads than men, with women appearing in 1081 ads and men in 515 ads."

"One of the most surprising findings was that no celebrities were used in major news magazines like Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report," said Michael Belch. "Even though many of these magazines contain ads for national brands that can generally afford the expense of using a celebrity spokesperson."The researchers also examined product categories that used celebrities in advertising. They found the highest percentage of celebrities (21 percent) were used in ads for media/video/music products and services that usually featured entertainers/artists promoting movies, music and events in which they performed. On the other hand, there were no celebrities were used in ads promoting financial services, and only two of the 102 automobile ads featured a celebrity.

In conclusion

The Belches, who are also authored the best-selling integrated marketing communications textbook in the world, Advertising and Promotions: an Integrated Marketing Communications Perspective, concluded that "the use of celebrities in advertising is not as prevalent as many might think, which begs the question of why they are not used more often."

"It was interesting to note that many of the ads analyzed for the study were for companies and/or brands that may be unable to afford the use of celebrity endorsers," said George Belch. "Or they may feel that it is not cost effective to do so."

The professors noted in their research that it can be difficult to determine "the increases in sales and/or market share resulting from the use of celebrity endorsers and that there have been only a few studies that have examined the economic value of their use." While one of those studies showed a positive impact on stock prices, a second study showed that the positive impact on sales decreased over time. They also concluded that additional research "might provide more insight into why the use of celebrities in magazine advertising is so low, as well as how they are used" in the ads."The use of celebrities in magazine ads may also be lower because they do not fit well with the execution of a print ad," he continued. "Magazine ads are static in nature as they rely on the use of a photo or image of the product or service being advertised in a finite amount of space with, perhaps, some ad copy. Television commercials, on the other hand, are much more dynamic in nature and provide greater creative opportunities for using a celebrity endorser by showing him/her discussing and/or engaging with a product or service."