Sosthenes Senanu Nyadroh
Politically active celebrities are most noticeable during election time, when media outlets breathlessly report candidate endorsements and show pictures of presidential candidates with movie, music and sports stars. Do these endorsements matter? Few political scientists have addressed this question, but the limited extant evidence is suggestive. In the United States of America for example, many people have argued that Oprah Winfrey’s high-profile endorsement of Barack Obama during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, had significant effects on Obama’s eventual selection as the Democratic nominee and subsequently the President of America. It was reported that in areas where there were greater concentrations of Oprah Winfrey fans, Barack Obama enjoyed a higher level of electoral success than he would have absent the endorsement.
On the contrary, back here in Ghana same 2008 presidential elections, the story is a totally different one. The ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) and its candidate was endorsed heavily by Ghanaian celebrities. There were a good number of concerts organised for this purpose, one of which is “Believe in Ghana concert” and a campaign song by one of Ghana’s finest Highlife musician Daddy Lumba. This particular song to me is the best political campaign song I have ever heard, but we all saw how the “Elephant” was chased into the bush. Of course there were other celebrities who also publicly declared their support for the then opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) which eventually won the 2008 presidential election with just a little over 40,000 votes.
Communications scholars have studied celebrity endorsements to a greater extent than have political scientists, and their findings suggest that celebrity endorsements are far from insignificant. It is a ubiquitously accepted fact that celebrity endorsement can bestow special attributes upon a person that it may have lacked otherwise. Celebrities are loved and adored by their fans and political parties use stars to capitalise on these feelings to sway the fans towards their presidential candidates and some stars have a universal appeal and therefore prove to be a good bet to generate interest among the masses. But everything is not hunky-dory; celebrities are after all mere mortals made of flesh and blood like us. If a celebrity can aggrandize the merits of a presidential candidate, he or she can also exacerbate the image of that candidate.
In short, the limited evidence that exists, although not definitive, suggests the following: Celebrity endorsements matter. Where does this influence come from and how does it work? While political scientists do not have a particularly compelling answer to this question, marketing and advertising scholars do. Numerous marketing studies show that celebrity endorsements of products can increase sales. The most compelling explanation for how and why this is the case comes from anthropologist and economist Grant McCracken. His “meaning transfer theory” holds that a celebrity increases the attractiveness of a product by transferring his or her meaning to that product. The celebrity in question develops a public persona through his or her activities (e.g., the roles he or she plays on television or in movies), and, over time, he or she is imbued with a specific meaning (e.g., he or she is seen as tough, responsible, competent, beautiful, or sophisticated). When a celebrity endorses a product, this meaning is then transferred to that product. Influence occurs to the extent that people like the celebrity, like what he or she represents, and proceed to like the product he or she endorses.
If your favourite celebrity endorses a presidential candidate does that really make you want to vote more for that candidate? Nowadays, there are tons of celebrities that come out and endorse the presidential candidates. Now, do seeing any of those celebrities endorsing a presidential candidate make you want to run out and vote for that candidate? Don't get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their opinion and celebrities should be able to back who they want, but it should not matter to the voters. On voting day this December, people need to remember to think for themselves and not be persuaded by their favourite actor or singer. Start looking at the manifestos of all the political parties now. Pick a party and candidate that supports the things that you would like to see in the next four years or even beyond in this country. Celebrities do not lead the everyday life though. They can't fully understand what the "blue collar" worker goes through in life. Most celebrities do not have to worry about money or healthcare costs. With that being said, do the celebrities endorsements really help? I don't think that they do. Remember, voting is your opinion, not your favourite actors and actresses.
Written By: Sosthenes Senanu Nyadroh. (I Luv Gh).