Everyone wants to have what the celebrities have, we want the pair of trainers they tweeted, or a Vossi Glass water bottle stuffed with fresh fruit featured on a celebrity’s Instagram. It’s easy to say that Celebrity endorsements are everywhere; perhaps to the point, where we don’t realise the amount of endorsements around and how much of an impact they have on our everyday lives. Nonetheless, where do we draw the line when they start telling us who to vote for?
This essay will explore the subject of Celebrity Endorsements, particularly their endorsements of politics. It will investigate the role that Celebrity Endorsements on Social Media and digital journalism had on political campaigning and outcome of the 2015 British General Election. The essay will look into how the story of celebrity endorsements on social media has become a current issue in journalism studies. It will identify when the issue of political Celebrity endorsements first came to light, but it will be focused on the aforementioned issue within the strict timeline from January 2015 to May 2015. The essay will give insight into the amount of coverage the issue got in mainstream media in comparison to other relevant emerging or developing stories and the relative space the story occupied on the news agenda. Next, the essay will examine the language used in articles pertaining to the essay’s focus. Finally, the essay will explore the way in which the story of endorsements connects with the current issue of social media and political reporting, ending with conclusion on the triviality of the issue and suggest why investigating it was of such importance.
Social media has allowed endorsements to bypass the complications and costs of televised adverts and print poses. While such types of advertisements still exist, it is now much simpler to endorse something. All a celebrity would need to do is tweet about it and instantaneously thousands, if not millions of people see it worldwide. Twitter endorsements come with added benefits like the Retweet options allowing that endorsement to be shared further on. There is also the favourite feature whereby you can show that you like what has been tweeted by the person; this alone can give the celebrity or their sponsors an idea of the amount of reception and response to that particular tweet.
The celebrity endorser is defined as any individual who enjoys public recognition and who uses this recognition on behalf of a consumer good by appearing with it. (McCracken, 1989: 310) Political endorsements by celebrities are that the celebrity associates himself or herself with a political party or candidate. By doing so, they have the intention of encouraging people to vote, or give their support to that endorsed political party. They appear to support the cause or agenda of the party they are endorsing, despite criticism. (Veer, Becirovic and Martin, 2010: 437) While it has been argued that endorsements lead to higher voting turnouts, there is little evidence over the years to prove that this is true. With many newspapers reporting on the fact that often the political endorsements during the 2015 UK general election campaign did more to disrepute the endorsee than it did to add to their credibility. (Bennett, 2015)
While this essay is focusing on political celebrity endorsements in the UK during the 2015 general election, it is crucial that we acknowledge the fact that the ever rising political endorsements is inspired by the obvious success of political endorsements in the United States of America. That being said, we can see that celebrity endorsements go back further than the 1980’s with Labour’s Red Wedge campaign or during the Thatcherism days when British girl band ‘Spice Girls’ hailed Margret Thatcher “The original Spice Girl” (Boggan, 1996) a criticism from most UK newspapers stated that adopting celebrity endorsements during the political campaigns had led to Britain becoming ‘presidential’ making the politics seem like its all about one person (the party leaders) rather than on the individual parties as a whole. “New Labour” drew on the role that celebrities play in modern culture in the UK 1997 elections in an attempt to encourage so-called attractive sources (Smith, 2005 cited in Veer, Becirovic and Martin, 2010: 438) Blair had a pre-election party with celebrities called ‘Cool Britannia’.
Political endorsements may be just one in many American things that Britain has adopted. Yet, this essay recognises that one of the most outstanding milestone in Political endorsements in the UK comes from the unique ‘Better Together’ campaign endorsed and funded completely by celebrities in support of the ‘NO’ vote for Scotland’s monumental Independence Referendum in 2014 which saw celebrities fund a campaign to keep Scotland a part of Britain, including famed Author JK Rowling. Some may argue that it is the success of the ‘Better together’ campaign that encouraged the amount of celebrity endorsements we saw in the UK general elections in the following months.
Moreover, this essay found that most of the coverage on the story of celebrity endorsements in the run up to the UK elections 2015 will be coming from UK national newspapers, and any mention of other countries in the reporting was only to mention previous successful examples of celebrity endorsements coming out of the USA. The coverage of the issue of political endorsements first broke on social media. Even though it was predicted before the vast scope of the campaigning stage began that social media would have a very large impact on the campaigning process and possibly the turn out and results of the general elections (Daisley, 2015)
Social Media is the term used for services that allow their users to create content and share it with others, worldwide. Albeit having many various forms of social media platforms, for the purpose of this subject, the essay will be focusing on the roles that social media platform ‘Twitter’ and video sharing platform ‘YouTube’, had on the topic of political endorsements in the UK General Election campaign 2015. Where most of the events this essay is exploring, took place.
For the purpose of this essay, I participated as a viewer, reader and social networker. I engaged with the story of celebrity endorsements by also endorsing on; what I picked and chose from what was posted on Twitter then and further adding my input and opinions, as social media allows us to do. I was not alone in my initial thoughts and understanding that this would be an election dominated and perhaps even swayed by the effects of powerful viral campaigning but especially by a surge of activity on social media (Daisley, 2015). With the daily mail reporting of the Labour Party offering £33,000 for an aide to secure him with celebrity endorsements and make him appear like he’s ‘In touch with real people’. (Baker, 2014)
Over time, my understanding of the story developed, as I came to realise that even though social media had introduced a seemingly revolutionary stage in the use of celebrity endorsements, political or otherwise. Yet, there were doubts as to whether the presence of political endorsements would encourage people to vote, especially young voters. As this ‘social media’ General election was something new, something that was never experienced before, no one could accurately tell what would be the outcome of this shift to the online community and how its move to social media platforms would affect the election and its outcome.
This paper must also acknowledge that it was not only an issue of celebrity endorsements alone that filled social media during the campaign for the general elections or played the full part of supposedly encouraging voters. It was also the first time that voters, especially young voters; could hear from, and communicate with each individual party and participate in the debates via the use of ‘Hashtags’ the method to see what someone else has written using a shared code that can be accessed by everybody around the world. The official hashtag for the general elections “#GE2015’ had over 5.5 posts (Pottinger, 2015) during the period of the electoral campaign that led to the general elections voting day.
What that means for the essay is that while there was heavy manifestation and talk of the elections on Twitter, we may find is that actually, the celebrity endorsements or the political social media presence may not have actually affected the outcome or results of the elections, (Monkey, 2015) but like almost everything else on the Internet was but a lengthy yet fleeting moment of mostly ridicule of the British political system.
In order to apprehend the relative space the story of celebrity endorsements on social media during the 2015 general elections occupied on the news agenda, a content analysis of all the online news articles in relation to endorsements and the effects of social media on the political election were analysed to give us an idea of when the story started. It could also give us an indication of the high points in the story and the releases that were popular and spoken off compared to lesser stories.
Primarily, before the six weeks of official campaigning had begun, most newspapers were focusing on predicting what the most important contributors to the outcome of the elections would be. With many calling for added attention to be on what social media would be bringing to the election, especially from celebrities in the form of endorsements. “Whilst the world around us changes at speed and the internet disrupts so many familiar institutions… Maybe 2015 is the year that the Internet – and social media in particular – finally hacks the British democratic process” (Daisley, 2015) Here The Huffington Post starts to tell us the predictions they have and automatically from the title of the article it could show how they were bringing so attention to social media and the impact they were certain would bring a election that we have never seen the kind of before.
This essay recognizes that it could have been news articles like the aforementioned from The Huffington Post that might have possibly been the start to what followed in terms of expert pieces on how social media and celebrity endorsements worked. These pieces did not necessarily appear in the mainstream and national newspapers, online or otherwise. It was found, however, in business blogs and websites (Hayes, 2015). Acting more as an explanative manual on how to notice and what to expect from celebrity endorsements.
The essay found that reports of events as they happened proved to be more common and compared to opinion pieces and reports of social media activity. For example, when President Obama announced that he was supporting Prime Minister Cameron because he believed that Cameron had done a good job for Britain in the last year (Holehouse, 2015). Three online newspapers (The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Huffington Post) reported this, even though what they reported would be different in language. Especially in how they would report their story and what political affiliation that newspaper would have. The essay compares that with the coverage of endorsements given by actress White Dee in support of the Labour party (Bennett, 2015), which was only covered by The Huffington Post.
The content analysis conducted also discovered that because all newspapers have political affiliations, that in it self creates endorsements for the party they are affiliated with. This would mean that even though they are reporting something that other newspapers would also report as a majority, they would report it in a way, which incorporates and promotes the propaganda or idea that they want to promote. The problem this causes is that these stories are then shared on social media or otherwise read directly from the website, regular readers of any newspaper would usually continue to read a newspaper if they are in agreement with the ideas being incorporated into what is being read. This in turn encourages that reader to play into the endorsement or opinion being shared by the news outlet.
The biggest example of this that we found was the coverage of comedian Russell Brand’s decision to end his well known stance to promote the ‘Don’t vote’ very close to the election day, where he suddenly changed to endorse Labour after hosting an interview with Labour’s party leader, Ed Miliband. This caused an outrage on social media because Russell Brand was considered a spokesman of those of the opinion that voting was not helpful to the progression of the country. Many who saw his interview were in an uproar over the ‘betrayal’ over newspapers covered the breaking news that Brand had changed his stance on the vote. (Mason, 2015) Yet the most astounding thing was the reception of the news of Brand’s decision to support labour came from people online who had followed his advice on the choice to not vote. Took to the Internet to voice their anger. From the 4th of May to the 7th of May 2015 Russell Brand had accumulated 3962 mentions on twitter talking about his decision to endorse Labour. (Pottinger, 2015) Using social media networks like Twitter and YouTube (the output source for Russell’s own personal agenda) people took to leaving comments on his YouTube video (Brand, 2015) announcing his support for the labour party. Whereas there has also been 21,000 videos uploaded about Russell Brand alone, in the month of May 2015.
YouTube itself has become a platform of digital journalism, the source whereby individuals can film and upload anything they like, and also where Party made videos of endorsements were uploaded. For example, the endorsement video made by the Labour Party featuring actor Martin Freeman received 311 thousand views compared to the average video they uploaded, which would receive anything between 1-10 thousand views. (Freeman, 2015)
The essay must bring to attention the importance of language in the coverage of Political endorsements at the hand of social media and digital journalism. During the content analysis conducted on this issue, we found that the language used in written pieces reportage of the issue were explanative, explorative but mostly mocking of course this does go back to the idea that each paper or news source has a political affiliation and a set of ideals that they promote. With The Sun, Daily Mail, The Evening Standard and The Telegraph endorsing Conservatives, The Economist, Independent and Financial Times favouring a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. (Croucher, 2015) Only The Guardian, The Observer and Huffington Post (news outlet not originating from Print newspaper) chose to endorse Labour. (Croucher, 2015) This could be the biggest reason, other than tabloid/broadsheet why there is such a different use of language between all the major UK newspapers. An opinion piece by The Guardian about the Conservative party’s use of Celebrity Gary Barlow as an endorsement once again. (Parkinson, 2015)
Quite simply this article is very ridiculing, it jests and mocks the conservative party choice of Gary Barlow and attacks Gary by mocking his clothing and hair. However, like any creditable newspaper would do, it goes on to explaining how Barlow is could be problem for Labour “Given that most of Barlow’s fans are now in their 30s and 40s, they are cash-rich, politically engaged and actually able to vote” but then goes back to calling him the “Queens hypeman” who will “Deprive us of millions via tax avoidance” (Parkinson, 2015) this is in comparison to how The Telegraph reported the story, (Swinford, 2015) which was less of an opinion piece like The Guardian piece was; but it reported it by giving a break though explorative look into what had happened, and who had said what. More like what any breaking news story would sound like. However you still do hear the political affiliation of the conservative party being endorsed.
Finally, this essay seeks to explore and analyse current issue of the impacts of social media on the story of political celebrity endorsements. ‘Now everybody out there is a creator of content’ having to manage through an ‘overabundance of content’ (Dredge, 2014). Furthermore, it matters less what mainstream media chooses to do. Everyone online now has the capacity to ‘view footage selectively, by his or her own accord’ (Little, 2015). This makes it easier for people to find the kind of news that they want to listen to, rather than what a TV station has said they should watch. Sudcliffe argues, that the ’24 hour news cycle has become slightly worn out’. So social media is granting people the freedom of choice.
However, this essay has also witnessed the ‘Celebritisation of politics’… politicians appear keen to associate themselves with celebrities. This is because there ‘Isn’t an interest from this age group (young readers) for news, current affairs and the world’ (Dredge, 2014) but the Internet is acting as a ‘Virtual coffeehouse’ where the audience can participate in the ‘conversational culture of the coffeehouse’ (Newman, 2011: 55). Furthermore, Hammond suggests that the use of celebrity endorsement in politics is due to ‘Leaders seeking a connection with a citizenry that is largely uninterested in or cynical about politics’ (Hammond, 2009: 2). While Hammond glorifies the idea of celebritisation, others are of the opinion that ‘Celebrity power depends on audiences and the media’s investment in the status and exceptional nature of celebrity’ (Drake, 2007: 219).
In conclusion, this essay explored the idea that social media would impact political celebrity endorsements during the UK’s 2015 General Election, we found that while this was a unique election and the first of its kind seen by the UK as it was heavily dominated by campaigning on social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube. However, what we found with reports after results of the elections is that social media campaigning and celebrity endorsements did not influence or sway the vote as much as we thought it would have. (Willis, 2015)
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