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Today's American society is said to be fascinated with celebrities (Schickel 1985). Many successful individuals from a variety of fields, ranging from entertainment to sports, cuisine, business, and politics, are often elevated to celebrity status. Mass media are saturated with images of and information about celebrities, and as a result, celebrity figures enjoy high profiles, idiosyncratic qualities, and glamorous images in the eyes of the public (Giles 2000; McCracken 1989). Capitalizing on the public recognition bestowed on them, celebrities frequently appear in advertising in association with consumer products or services. With its ability to penetrate the busy clutter of advertising spots, draw consumer attention, generate high recall rates, create and differentiate product images, and generate sales and profits, celebrity endorsement has proven to be a valuable strategy (Agrawal and Kamakura 1995; Erdogan 1999; Gabor, Jeannye, and Wienner 1987; Kaikati 1987; Mathur, Mathur, and Rangan 1997). No wonder marketers invest large sums of money in employing celebrities to promote their products. Nike, for instance, signed a $100 million, five-year contract with Tiger Woods for his endorsement (Isidore 2003).
The celebrity phenomenon is not limited to the United States and appears to be universal. Past research also observes the prevalence of the celebrity endorsement strategy in many other countries (Cutler, Javalgi, and Lee 1995; Erdogan, Baker, and Tagg 2001; Lin 1993; Praet 2002; Shapiro 2001). As mass media enable celebrities such as Madonna and Michael Jordan to move beyond national markets and establish awareness and reputation around the world, celebrities with worldwide recognition and popularity are believed to transcend national borders and overcome cultural barriers in global marketing communications (Erdogan 1999; Kaikati 1987). Yet no research to date has empirically examined the assumption that the celebrity endorsement strategy is used in a similar fashion from country to country, or that consumers around the world respond to it in a similar way.
Since celebrities echo the symbolic meanings and values that are closely tied to the culture in which they have attained their eminence (McCracken 1989), the selection of celebrity endorsers and the creative execution of this advertising strategy may also mirror the fundamental cultural orientations and values of that society. Indeed, a considerable amount of cross-cultural research has evidenced that cultural values are often apparent in the practice of advertising. Advertising messages that are congruent with the dominant cultural norms are said to be more persuasive than those that do not reflect the cultural values of the society in which the advertising is disseminated (Cho et al. 1999; Han and Shavitt 1994; Taylor, Miracle, and Wilson 1997). To date, a few cross-cultural content analyses of advertising have observed the differing incidence of celebrity endorsement across countries (Cutler, Javalgi, and Lee 1995; Lin 1993; Praet 2002). However, these examinations are generally limited to merely examining the frequency of celebrity appearances; little is known about similarities and differences in how this particular technique is implemented cross-culturally.
The purpose of this study is to establish a baseline understanding of cross-cultural similarities and differences in the practice of celebrity endorsement in advertising from two diametrically different countries, the United States and Korea, in terms of two fundamental cultural dimensions: (1) low versus high context, and (2) individualism versus collectivism. In addition to assessing the frequency of usage and the characteristics of celebrity endorsers, this study also closely examines the creative execution of the technique in the two countries. The common styles and features in the execution of celebrity-endorsed advertising should provide insights into what is considered effective by advertising practitioners in a given culture (Zandpour, Chang, and Catalano 1992). Theoretically, as one of the first efforts to delve into the implementation of celebrity endorsement cross-culturally, this study should serve as a starting point for future research on the varied celebrity endorsement usage and effectiveness across cultures. In practical terms, findings of this study should aid international advertisers in their initial understanding of the proper use of celebrities in different cultural settings.
Using celebrities in advertising dates back to the late nineteenth century, and this common advertising practice has drawn a considerable amount of academic and practical attention (see Erdogan 1999 for an extensive review). Most academic investigations of celebrity endorsement have been contextualized in the realm of source credibility and attractiveness models, and suggest that celebrities exert their influence on consumers through perceived attributes such as expertise, trustworthiness, attractiveness, familiarity, and likeability (Ohanian 1990, 1991).
Another stream of research on celebrity endorsement, which is labeled the "match-up hypothesis," has examined the fit or "match" between a celebrity and the product being endorsed, and maintains that celebrity endorsement is more effective when the images or characteristics of the celebrity are well matched with the endorsed product (Kahle and Homer 1985; Kamins 1990; Kamins and Gupta 1994; Till and Busler 2000). In a similar vein, McCracken suggests that a "celebrity who best represents the appropriate symbolic properties" of the product should be selected, thus highlighting the importance of the cultural meanings of celebrities in the endorsement process. Celebrities embody a collection of culturally relevant images, symbols, and values. As images of the celebrities become associated with products through endorsement, the meanings they attach to the products are transferred to consumers through purchase and consumption (McCracken 1989, p. 316). Therefore, the practice of celebrity endorsement should be closely related to the cultural context in which the images of celebrities are formed and individual celebrities are selected to be linked with particular products.
For advertising practitioners, employing an appropriate celebrity endorser to promote a product is an important and difficult task. For instance, as suggested in the theoretical literature, professionals at advertising agencies and their client companies in the United States and the United Kingdom cited celebrity attributes such as image, trustworthiness, and familiarity, as well as the fit between the celebrity and the product, as important factors for choosing the appropriate endorsers (Erdogan, Baker, and Tagg 2001; Miciak and Shanklin 1994). Other highly ranked decision factors include celebrity/target-audience congruence, costs of securing the celebrity, the celebrity's risk of controversy, and the celebrity's prior endorsement. As suggested by Erdogan, Baker, and Tagg (2001), the perceived importance and the actual use of endorser selection criteria may vary from culture to culture. Differences in the entertainment industry and agency business, and more broadly, in the cultural environments are likely to influence the execution of the celebrity endorsement strategy across countries.
Arguing for standardized advertising across countries, some contend that consumer demands and tastes have become similar on a global scale (Levitt 1983; Taylor and Johnson 2002) and that using celebrities with worldwide recognition in advertising is an effective means of overcoming cultural difficulties (Erdogan 1999; Kaikati 1987; La Ferla 2001). Others claim that despite some observed convergence among consumers around the world, fundamental values still remain divergent across cultures. Therefore, international advertisers cannot assume that the same advertising technique should be uniformly applied or that it will be equally effective in different countries (De Mooij 1998, 2003; Onkvisit and Shaw 1999). Yet research on similarities and differences between cultures in the use of celebrity endorsement in advertising is scarce, despite the potential cultural influence on this technique as speculated in the literature.
Dimensions of Cross-Cultural Differences
The contextuality of a culture is one of the most frequently used cultural orientations for distinguishing Asian cultures from Western ones, and has proven to be useful as a means of understanding cross-cultural differences (Cho et al. 1999; Kim, Pan, and Park 1998). Hall (1984) classified cultures according to the degree of context in their communication styles, noting that "a high context communication or message is one in which most of the information is already either in the physical context or internalized in the person while very little is in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message," whereas "a low context communication is just the opposite; i.e., the mass of the information is vested in the explicit code" (p. 91). In high-context cultures, messages are conveyed in an abstract, implicit, and indirect manner. In contrast, communication in low-context cultures is more straightforward, explicit, and direct. Western countries such as the United States are characterized as low-context cultures, whereas Asian cultures such as Japan and Korea exhibit a high-context communication style (Cho et al. 1999; Hall 1976).
Some previous cross-cultural studies have applied the concept of high- versus low-context communications to advertising. In general, advertising in low-context cultures is often information-oriented and typically employs direct rhetorical styles, confrontational appeals, and hard-sell approaches (Cutler and Javalgi 1992; Lin 1993; Miracle, Chang, and Taylor 1992; Mueller 1987). Conversely, advertising in high-context cultures tends to be more emotional and symbolic, with more frequent use of soft-sell approaches and indirect verbal expressions (Biswas, Olsen, and Carlet 1992; Cutler and Javalgi 1992; Johansson 1994; Lin 1993; Miracle, Chang, and Taylor 1992; Mueller 1987). Consumers in a high-context culture are familiar with and are thought to prefer indirect or implicit ways of communication via symbols. As cultural icons, celebrity endorsers can therefore be used effectively as an implicit means of conveying messages to consumers without overtly stating them.
Another dimension frequently used for comparing cultures is individualism versus collectivism (Aaker and Maheswaran 1997; Han and Shavitt 1994; Moon and Franke 2000). Originating from Hofstede's work (1984), the concept of individualism versus collectivism illustrates different values that are appreciated across cultures. Individualistic cultures are characterized by valuing independence, self-realization, freedom, and a high level of competition, whereas interdependence, harmony, family security, group-oriented goals, social hierarchies, cooperation, and a low level of competition typify …