SIGNING up a star brings little benefit to charities, which
over-estimate the appeal of celebrity, a new survey suggests.
The research, published in the
International Journal of Cultural Studies, argues that most
people support charities because of personal connections, not
because of celebrity endorsement. The authors, Dan Brockington and
Spence Henson, conclude that, "to the extent that celebrity
advocacy does get people's attention, it is the celebrity that gets
it more than the cause".
Their poll of 1207 people found that, while 95 per cent were
aware of the seven well-known development charities listed,
two-thirds of them had no awareness of the famous people associated
with these charities. Focus groups suggested that "celebrities were
not necessarily good at directing attention to the substance of
their charities' causes - but rather, if inadvertently, towards
The authors go on to argue that celebrity advocacy does work, in
the sense that "political and corporate elites want to meet
celebrities. They often provide a good way into elite-dominated
policy-making circles, which are so dominant in development." It
is, thus, symptomatic of a "post-democratic form of politics" in
which citizens are alienated from power.
On Monday, Oxfam and ActionAid, who were among the seven
charities listed in the survey, defended the use of celebrities. A
spokesman for Oxfam said that they "enable us to bring issues like
poverty and inequality to large, new, and diverse audiences. . . .
Many of our ambassadors have supported Oxfam for years, and their
commitment has made a huge difference to the lives of many
thousands of people, by generating public awareness, campaigning,
and financial support."
A spokeswoman for ActionAid said that taking the actress
Samantha Womack to visit the charity's work in Myanmar, in 2012,
was "an integral part of a fund-raising drive that signed up over
2000 new child sponsors for children desperately in need".
The head of media at Christian Aid, Andrew Hogg, said that the
charity had "shifted away from seeking celebrity endorsements" two
years ago, "and instead focused more on our grass-roots church
supporters, who are our hands and feet in spreading the word of
Christian Aid in the UK.
"Like our work around the world alleviating poverty, we don't
rely on 'aid workers' from the West parachuting in and fixing
problems. We work in partnership with local civil-society
organisations that are already embedded in communities.
"Likewise, our advocacy and fund-raising in the UK relies not on
celebrities, but on thousands of committed individuals who believe
in what we're doing and want to be a part of that."