It’s been the social media hit of the summer — some of the world’s biggest celebrities dousing themselves with buckets of ice water to raise money for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Just about everybody who is anybody seems to have done the Ice Bucket Challenge, from Bill Gates to Lady Gaga to LeBron James, who’s challenged President Obama to step up. The idea is that the challenged individual either has to donate $100 to the cause or be doused with ice water. Good sports do both – then pass on the challenge to someone else.
Between the A-listers and the millions of lesser-known mortals who have joined in, the Ice Bucket Challenge has raised an estimated $15 million to fight the debilitating disease in just a few short weeks.
That’s impressive, but it’s just a drop in the bucket — so to speak — of the $300 billion or so raised for charities and aid organizations in the U.S. alone each year. And in the fund-raising appeals, celebrities readily lend their names to a raft of causes, from combating cancer to removing land mines.
But how much influence do celebrities really have when it comes to convincing us to support a charity? While celebrity endorsements in the commercial world are clearly seen as good value (why else would companies pay millions), studies on the impact of celebrity spokespeople for charities give conflicting results.
The principles behind celebrity endorsements are much the same, whether you’re selling running shoes or compassion, says Julie Ruth, associate professor of marketing at Rutgers University Business School and an expert in brands and consumer behavior.
"People who are less knowledgeable about a product or an issue are more likely to take their cues from a celebrity endorsement," she says.