Popular Music Celebrity Endorsements in Food and Nonalcoholic Beverage Marketing
- Marie A. Bragg, PhDa,b,
- Alysa N. Miller, MPHa,b,
- Juleen Elizee, MPHa,
- Shatabdi Dighe, MPHa, and
- Brian D. Elbel, PhD, MPHa,b,c
- aDepartment of Population Health, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York;
- bNew York University College of Global Public Health, New York, New York; and
- cNew York University Wagner School of Public Service, New York, New York
Dr Bragg originated the study idea and design, helped with data acquisition and analyses, led the writing of the manuscript, and had full access to all the study data; Ms Miller, Ms Elizee, and Ms Dighe helped with the data acquisition and analysis and provided feedback on the manuscript; Dr Elbel helped interpret the results and provided critical feedback on drafts of the manuscript; and all authors approved the final manuscript as submitted.
BACKGROUND: Food and beverage marketing has been associated with childhood obesity. We quantified the number and type of food or beverage brands promoted by music celebrities, assessed the nutritional quality of the products, and examined Teen Choice Award data to assess the celebrities’ popularity among adolescents.
METHODS: This was a descriptive study. A list of music celebrities associated with the 2013 and 2014 Billboard Hot 100 Chart, which ranks songs according to sales and radio impressions, was compiled. Data on celebrity endorsements were gathered from official company Web sites, YouTube commercials, an advertising database, and media reports. Nutritional quality of foods was assessed according to the Nutrient Profile Index, whereas nonalcoholic beverages were evaluated based on calories from added sugar. Teen Choice Award nominations were used to measure the celebrities’ popularity among adolescents.
RESULTS: Of the 590 endorsements made by the 163 celebrities in the sample, consumer goods (eg, fragrances, makeup) represented the largest endorsement category (26%), followed by food and beverage (18%) and retail (11%). Sixty-five celebrities were collectively associated with 57 different food and beverage brands owned by 38 parent companies. Of these 65 celebrities, 53 (81.5%) had ≥1 Teen Choice Award nomination. Forty-nine (71%) of the 69 nonalcoholic beverage references promoted sugar-sweetened beverages. Twenty-one (80.8%) of the 26 endorsed foods were energy dense and nutrient poor. Baauer, will.i.am, Justin Timberlake, Maroon 5, and Britney Spears had the most food and beverage endorsements.
CONCLUSIONS: This study demonstrates that music celebrities who are popular among adolescents endorse energy-dense, nutrient-poor products.
- NPI —
- Nutrient Profile Index
- NPM —
- Nutrient Profile Model
- SSB —
- sugar-sweetened beverage
What’s Known on This Subject:
Exposure to unhealthy food advertisements is associated with excessive consumption. Studies have shown that celebrities’ food endorsements promote higher product preferences. Research has also demonstrated an association between familiarity with songs mentioning alcohol and drinking behaviors in adolescents and young adults.
What This Study Adds:
The study examines the use of music celebrity endorsements of food and beverage products. Furthermore, it assesses nutritional value of endorsed products and the popularity of the celebrity endorser among adolescents.
The Institute of Medicine and surgeon general have stated that individual-level health-promoting behavior changes are very difficult to achieve because of the current unhealthy environment.1 Food and beverage marketing has been identified as a significant environmental contributor to childhood obesity.1⇓⇓⇓⇓–6 Exposure to food marketing promotes excess consumption, increased purchase requests, and higher preference for the product among children and adults.2⇓⇓–5 A cued-recall assessment demonstrated that fast food advertising receptivity (ie, exposure and response to ads) is associated with youth obesity.7 Food and beverage companies spend $2 billion annually on youth-targeted advertisements.1 Public health experts have called for a shift toward marketing messages that encourage consumption of healthy foods and beverages and policies to establish protective thresholds for food marketing exposure targeting youth.8⇓⇓⇓–12
Research has shown that the use of celebrity endorsements in marketing can enhance brand equity and the desirability of a product, leading consumers to more positively associate with, and easily recognize, brands.13⇓–15 This effect is particularly relevant in the context of music celebrity endorsements because adolescents ages 12 to 18 years report spending almost 2 hours listening to music each day,16 and black and Latino youth spend 3 hours listening to music daily.17 This frequent exposure is notable in the context of previous research that showed that 20% of popular US songs mentioned alcohol brands and associated alcohol with positive consequences (eg, wealth, sex, luxury).18 This exposure is linked to self-reported alcohol consumption, with 1 study demonstrating that familiarity with songs that mention alcohol brands was associated with drinking behaviors in adolescents and young adults.19 These findings are consistent with industry data showing that celebrity endorsement campaigns are more likely than noncelebrity campaigns to lead to substantial increases in immediate profits and long-term increases in profitability.20 Given the high level of brand exposure created by these multi–million-dollar endorsement deals, public health experts have expressed concern over the potential effects of these marketing techniques on adolescents, who represent a vulnerable population well attuned to popular music trends. Indeed, grassroots action and media attention regarding celebrity athletes’ endorsement of tobacco have coincided with declining tobacco endorsements21,22 and could provide useful lessons for addressing music celebrities’ endorsements of unhealthy food and beverage products.
The food industry capitalizes on music celebrities’ popularity with youth by engaging in multi–million-dollar endorsement deals. In 2012, Beyoncé Knowles signed an endorsement deal with Pepsi worth an estimated $50 million, and Justin Timberlake received an estimated $6 million for his involvement in the McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” tune.23,24 In addition, beverage industry publications credit Latino rapper Pitbull’s endorsement of Dr Pepper with 4.6 million advertising impressions (ie, any views or exposure to ads) and boosting Dr Pepper sales among Latinos by 1.7%, despite overall declines in carbonated soft drink sales.25 Although this instance is anecdotal, it is important to note the industry perceives it as an example of effective celebrity endorsements.
Recent food marketing research has focused predominantly on children <12 years old, whereas adolescents’ exposure and response to advertising have been relatively understudied. More research on adolescents and food marketing is needed, especially in recognition of adolescents’ unique standing as impressionable consumers with more purchasing power and independence than their younger counterparts.26,27 In fact, research demonstrates that adolescents can be highly impulsive with purchases, in part because of peer pressure,28 fear of negative evaluation,28 and underdeveloped self-control systems.29 This descriptive study was designed to examine the use of music celebrity endorsements of food and nonalcoholic beverage products. We aimed to determine the number and type of music celebrity endorsements, evaluate the nutritional quality of endorsed products, and assess how popular these music celebrities are among adolescents and the general public.
We listed the top 100 songs that appeared on the 2013 and 2014 Billboard Hot 100 Chart, which ranks the year’s “most popular songs across all genres, ranked by radio airplay audience impressions as measured by Nielsen Music, sales data as compiled by Nielsen Music and streaming activity data provided by online music sources.”30 These songs were used to identify celebrities associated with various endorsements. Some celebrities appeared multiple times on the lists, and some songs had multiple celebrities listed as performers. Thus, we identified 163 unique music celebrities for the study. We then cataloged every endorsement associated with each music celebrity between 2000 to 2014 by searching for celebrity names on AdScope, an advertisement database that contains all forms of ads (eg, television, radio) dating back to 1997. Researchers also searched for official commercials on YouTube or endorsement announcements in news media sources.
After we listed endorsements associated with each celebrity who appeared on the 2013 and 2014 Billboard Hot 100 Chart, a research assistant blind to the purpose of the study sorted all endorsed brands into the following 11 categories: food and nonalcoholic beverages, automotive, consumer goods (eg, makeup, headphones), communications (eg, cell phone companies), finance (eg, credit cards), sports (eg, Nike), retail, tobacco and alcohol, services (eg, Google), airlines, and other. These categories were developed on the basis of the sponsorship categories created by the marketing firms.31
To assess the popularity of these music celebrities among adolescents, we compiled a list of music celebrities who appeared on the Teen Choice Award nomination lists between the years 2000 and 2014. The Teen Choice Awards is an annual awards show that uses adolescent viewers’ votes to honor celebrities in music, movies, sports, television, and fashion.32 We then created endorsement profiles that indicated the number and type of endorsements associated with each celebrity in the sample and the number of times each celebrity was nominated for a Teen Choice Award.
To assess the general population’s exposure to the celebrities and their food and nonalcoholic beverage endorsements, 2 raters independently searched YouTube for the celebrity and product or company name and cataloged the number of views associated with each of the videos. Inclusion criteria for YouTube videos consisted of official commercials, promotional videos, or music videos in which the celebrity, their song, or the endorsed product was featured that were uploaded between 2000 and 2014. Even though the Billboard Hot 100 list is restricted to 2 years for our study, capturing 14 years of endorsements enabled us to create a comprehensive profile that portrays a fuller picture of their prominence as an endorser. YouTube videos in languages other than English were excluded. Viewership data for YouTube videos represent the total number of views as of January 2016.
We reviewed all advertisements featuring endorsements by music celebrities in the sample. A celebrity was considered to endorse a product if an advertisement featured the celebrity, the celebrity’s song, or a music group to which the celebrity formerly belonged at the time of the endorsement. The nutrition information for products associated with celebrities’ endorsements was collected from official company Web sites or actual nutrition labels.
A nutrition score for each endorsed food product was generated from Nutrient Profile Model (NPM). The NPM was selected because it has been used in food marketing research studies and is used as the standard for child-targeted food marketing in United Kingdom.33⇓–35 The NPM provides a score that represents the healthfulness of each food product based on nutrient content. Foods gain points for nutrients that should be limited (calories, saturated fat, sodium, or sugar) and lose points for nutrients that are encouraged (fruits, vegetables, nuts, fiber, and protein). Higher scores represent less healthful products, whereas lower scores represent products with healthy qualities. To translate the NPM score to an easy-to-understand scale, the final NPM score was converted to a Nutrient Profile Index (NPI), where 1 is the worst nutrition score and 100 is the best score. The NPI has been used in previous food marketing research.36 The NPI uses the following formula: NPI score = −2 × NPM score + 70. A score ≥64 is considered the threshold for products that can be advertised to children in the United Kingdom. One limitation of the NPM is that it codes some sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) as healthy. Therefore, we coded nonalcoholic beverages into 11 drink categories, 3 sugary drink subcategories, and 5 other drink categories as outlined in the Rudd Center’s Sugary Drink FACTS Report.37
In some instances, celebrities endorsed a brand that did not mention a specific product or a brand that offered mixed meals (eg, fried chicken, biscuits, cole slaw) that could not easily be entered in the NPM formula. In those cases, we generated the NPM scores based on the Rudd Center’s Fast Food FACTS Report,38 a comprehensive analysis of all menu items for a variety of food and nonalcoholic beverage brands. In cases where data were not available through the FACTS report, we assessed the nutrition information for every food product associated with that brand and averaged the NPI scores of the entire line of products listed on the company Web site. Five companies (Chili’s, Pizza Hut, Longhorn Steakhouse, Wingstop, and Michael Jackson’s Premium Chocolate) were excluded from the nutritional analyses because the serving size information for most items was unavailable or unusable (eg, “serving size equals one slice”).
To assess the popularity of the celebrities among adolescents, we compiled a list of music celebrities nominated for a Teen Choice Award between the years 2000 and 2014. We cross-referenced the list of Teen Choice Award nominees with celebrities in our sample who endorsed food and nonalcoholic beverages. To assess broad audience exposure (ie, adults, adolescents, children), we quantified the number of YouTube video views associated with the celebrities’ food and nonalcoholic beverage brand endorsements.
We identified 590 endorsements associated with 163 unique music celebrities in the sample. Consumer goods was the largest endorsement category (26%), followed by food and nonalcoholic beverages (18%) and retail (11%). We cataloged 107 food and beverage brand endorsements, although several brands appeared multiple times because multiple celebrities endorsed the brand. Overall, full-calorie soft drinks were the most commonly endorsed food or nonalcoholic beverage product. In contrast, water-related endorsements appeared 3 times in the form of a Brita filter endorsement, CORE Hydration, and WAT-AAH!’s water brand. The celebrities with the highest number of food and nonalcoholic beverage endorsements were Baauer (N = 5), will.i.am (N = 4), Britney Spears (N = 3), Justin Timberlake (N = 3), Maroon 5 (N = 3), Pitbull (N = 3), and Jessie J (N = 3) (Table 1).
Endorsements by Food or Beverage Brand
There were a total of 107 food and beverage endorsements in the sample, associated with 38 parent companies. Fifty-one music celebrities were associated with 69 beverage references in 63 beverage advertisements (ie, ads were defined as television commercials, print ads, or promotional videos [eg, concert sponsored by Pepsi]) (Table 2). The number of references (ie, references were defined as the image of beverage can or bottle, verbal mention of the brand, or image of the parent company logo) exceeds the number of ads because 5 of the ads included a reference to multiple types of beverages (eg, Pepsi ad showing both Pepsi Regular can and Diet Pepsi can). Of the 69 beverage references, 49 were for SSBs, 7 were for non-SSBs (ie, diet beverage or water), and 13 references were associated with verbal mention of the brand or image of the parent company logo (ie, no product shown). Full-calorie soft drinks were the largest category of endorsements overall (N = 33). In terms of company prominence in endorsements, PepsiCo endorsements appeared most frequently (N = 23), followed by the Coca-Cola Company (N = 8) and Dr Pepper Snapple (N = 4) (Table 3). Seven no-calorie nonalcoholic beverage endorsements included diet soft drinks (N = 5), water (N = 1), and milk (N = 1).
Twenty-nine music celebrities were associated with 38 food endorsements in our sample. Thirty-three of those endorsements were unique because several brands (eg, McDonald’s) were endorsed by multiple celebrities. Fast food was the largest category of food endorsements (N = 6), with McDonald’s accounting for the most food endorsements in the sample. The remaining endorsements involved chips, candy, cereal, non–fast food restaurants, and miscellaneous snacks. There were no endorsements for fruits, vegetables, or whole grains, but one celebrity endorsed Wonderful Pistachio, which was the only food product with a healthy score (66/100).
Nutritional Quality of Celebrities’ Endorsements
NPI scores were determined for 26 food brands. Results indicate that Doritos, Cracker Jack, Mike and Ike candy, Nabisco, Eckrich, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Burger King, Hot Pockets, A&W Restaurants, Wrigley’s gum, Chipotle, Cadbury, Hershey’s, Pop-Tarts, Twix, Nongshim USA, Dairy Queen, Honey Nut Cheerios, and PopChips had NPI scores <64, indicating that they are energy dense and nutrient poor (Table 1). In contrast, Big Red gum, 5 Gum, Taco Bell, Subway, Activia, and Sheets Energy Sheets were the only brands endorsed by these celebrities that had NPI scores of ≥64.
Endorsement Viewership and Teen Choice Award Ratings
Celebrities in the sample appeared frequently on the nominee lists for the Teen Choice Awards between 2000 and 2014. Of the 163 celebrities in the sample, 102 appeared at least once on the Teen Choice Award nominee lists. Additionally, there were a total of 312 849 504 views of the YouTube video versions for food and beverage endorsements associated with celebrities in the sample. Rihanna’s 2006 song “We Ride,” which promotes the Coca-Cola product Fuze, had a total of 61 712 783 views since being first uploaded to her YouTube VEVO channel in 200939 (Table 4), the most YouTube views in our sample. Pepsi’s 2004 ‘We Will Rock You” commercial featuring Britney Spears, P!nk, and Beyoncé was the second most watched video in the sample, with >42 million views since the video was loaded on YouTube in 200940 (Table 4). Pepsi’s 23 celebrity endorsement commercials had the most collective YouTube views in the sample (N = 160 293 981) (Table 5).
This descriptive study demonstrates that music celebrities often endorse energy-dense, nutrient-poor products. Food and nonalcoholic beverage brands were the second largest endorsement category behind consumer goods (eg, fragrances, makeup). Full-calorie soft drinks were the largest category of food or nonalcoholic beverage endorsements, and Baauer, will.i.am, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Maroon 5, Pitbull, and Jessie J had the most food/nonalcoholic beverage endorsements. Celebrity ads appear to be popular, with >312 million viewers watching the 94 videos associated with celebrity food and nonalcoholic beverage endorsements in this sample on YouTube alone. However, it is impossible to conclude that all these viewers are indeed unique because a portion of the views may be repeated exposure. Although YouTube does not provide demographic data on viewers, the frequent appearance of these celebrities on the Teen Choice Award nomination lists suggests high levels of popularity among adolescents.
Obesity has become such a pressing public health issue that society must acknowledge the human suffering and costs associated with diabetes, obesity, and associated comorbidities. Musicians, actors, and other celebrities can be tremendously influential, particularly for the young fan base that may be swayed by their endorsements. Celebrities should leverage their influence to promote more healthful messages, and more effort should be made to reduce the exposure of children and adolescents to marketing, particularly for unhealthy food and nonalcoholic beverages. Every year, American children see 4700 advertisements, and adolescents view 5900 advertisements.1 The scale of this exposure is similar to that of youth-targeted tobacco advertisements, which permeated television, video games, sporting events, and movies.41⇓⇓–44 However, voluntary corporate pledges related to food marketing (eg, Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative) focus only on reducing marketing to children <12 years old, whereas tobacco policies restrict advertisements targeted to anyone <18 years old.
Given the heavy targeting of adolescents36⇓–38 and the amount of money adolescents spend on food and beverages, voluntary food marketing reduction pledges should expand to include adolescents. Expanding voluntary pledges to include adolescents would also be consistent with the food marketing reduction recommendations published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (2006),45 which encourage pediatricians to support local and national efforts to reduce food marketing while also counseling patients to limit screen time. Finally, grassroots action and media attention can help make celebrity food endorsements a public liability in the same way these methods have been used for other celebrities who endorsed tobacco.21 Although a number of professional athletes endorsed tobacco in the early 1900s, policy changes and shifts in public perception of smoking coincided with declining endorsements; when Liu Xiang, an athlete on the Chinese Olympic team, endorsed cigarettes in 2006, public outcry led him to be labeled an “inappropriate” ambassador for tobacco, demonstrating a strong shift in public opinion about endorsements.22
This study has some limitations. We may not have captured every endorsement that occurred between 2000 and 2014, which would lead to an underestimate of exposure to celebrity endorsements. Furthermore, we do not have direct adolescent viewership data, and 21 commercials were not available on YouTube, thus leading to conservative estimates of exposure. One limitation related to assessing popularity among adolescents includes criticism of the Teen Choice Awards’ lack of transparency in whether the winners are ultimately determined by adolescents’ votes or by the show’s corporate producers.46 This limitation may lead to inaccuracies in determining celebrities’ popularity among adolescents.
Future research should examine the effect of music celebrities’ food and nonalcoholic beverage endorsements on consumption, particularly for children and adolescents. Additionally, researchers should examine the effect of music celebrity endorsement on youth attitudes toward food brands and purchase intentions. The popularity of music celebrities among adolescents makes them uniquely poised to serve as positive role models, so these celebrities should be aware that their endorsements could exacerbate society’s struggle with obesity and endorse healthy products instead.
These results can inform policies designed to address the use of celebrities in food marketing. Many food and beverage companies have agreed not to target children <12 years old, but these pledges should include adolescents as well. To reduce exposure to energy-dense food and beverage endorsements, research is needed on the regulations of food marketing in environments highly populated by both children and adolescents.
We thank the following research assistants from the NYU SeedProgram for their valuable assistance in collecting data and preparing the report: Margaret Eby, Caitlin Crowley, Tami Hardoby, Elizabeth Stephens, Natasha Pandit, Yrvane Pageot, Silvia Beltran, Rachel Kuo, Josh Choe, Alex Bragg, Carolyn Fan, Caroline Mundela, and Carola Zurob.
- Accepted April 15, 2016.
- Address correspondence to Marie A. Bragg, PhD, 227 East 30th St, Room 622, New York, NY 10016. E-mail:
FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE: The authors have indicated they have no financial relationships relevant to this article to disclose.
FUNDING: This study was supported by the NIH Early Independence Award (DP5OD021373-01) from the NIH Office of the Director. Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
POTENTIAL CONFLICT OF INTEREST: The authors have indicated they have no potential conflicts of interest to disclose.
- Copyright © 2016 by the American Academy of Pediatrics