When Celebrities Fail: A Failure Congruence and Self-Interest Analysis

  • CHAN, Terri H Y (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


For many reasons, sports and entertainment celebrities are indispensable figures in modern societies. Marketing and communication studies have examined the motivations behind why consumers perceive and identify with these celebrated figures. Some do so because of the celebrities’ outstanding and unmatched performance while some do so because of the unique personal character in their life-struggles (Cashmore 2006; Doss 1999; McCracken 1989).

Yet, inevitably some celebrities fail; some due to sub-performances (sports star fail to succeed) and some due to character failures (South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius charged with murder). To date, few studies have investigated how consumers would react when their favored celebrities fail (fall short of performance or character expectations). Would consumers desert the celebrities that they once loved? Or would they standby and defend for them?

We posit that consumers’ reaction to the failed celebrities is determined by congruence between why a consumer identifies with the celebrity and the nature of the celebrity failure. Specifically, for those who identify with the celebrity because of “Celebrity Performance”, “Celebrity Character Failure” will not lead to strong negative effects as compared with “Performance Failure”. On the other hand, “Performance Failure” will have a salient negative effect for consumers who identified with celebrities for their performance, but not for those who identified with celebrities for their character.

Going further, we posit that this Failure Congruence effect is moderated by two self-related mechanisms. First, if “Self-Embedded” Empathy (when consumers are primed whether they have the chance to commit similar wrongdoing) is strong, the negative effect of celebrity failure on subsequent Consumer-Celebrity Identification will be reduced. Second, if “Need for Self- Enhancement” is high (celebrity is used to fill a consumer’s need for enhancement), the negative effect of Failure Congruence on Consumer-Celebrity Identification will increase. Moreover, we propose that “Self-Affirmation” (the need to maintain integrity of the self) offers an opposing three-way interaction on these two moderating mechanisms. For individuals who are highly self- affirmed, the “Self-Embedded Empathy” moderating effect will be enhanced while the “Need for Self-Enhancement” moderating effect will be reduced.

By delineating the proposed model and empirically verifying its postulates, this project fills a gap in the celebrity literature. The findings will also extend the application and insights of social identification and empathy theory. With celebrity endorsement being a core and highly rewarding strategy for advertisers, how consumers react to their failures is a timely project in an area of academic and managerial significance
Effective start/end date1/09/1531/08/18

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production


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