Celebrity Wine Endorsements Influence Consumers

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In a recent study, Canadian researchers found that the degree of “fit” between a celebrity endorser and a wine can influence a consumer’s perception of the wine’s taste and how much the consumer is willing to pay for the wine. The study was conducted by Antonia Mantonakis of the Goodman School with co-authors and Eric Dolansky (Goodman School), Sarah Clemente (Queens’ University) and Kate White (University of British Columbia).

Over one hundred participants evaluated three identical wine samples believing they were different wines, made from the same grape varietal, endorsed by three different celebrity athletes: Vijay Singh (golf), Jeremy Wotherspoon (speed skating), and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (wrestling). These athletes were selected based on a previous study which indicated that they had similar levels of name awareness and likability, but different perceived degrees of fit with wine because of the sports with which they were associated. The prior study indicated that Singh was considered to be the best match with wine, The Rock was considered to be the worst match, and Wotherspoon was perceived to have a moderate fit. None of the athletes whose names were used in the study endorse wine.

“We were really interested in learning whether consumers would perceive the wine as tasting any different if it was endorsed by an athlete who might not necessarily be a good match to the product category of wine. By ‘not necessarily a good match,’ I mean, we can think of a golfer as being a ‘good’ match, and maybe a wrestler being a ‘poor’ match, but a speed skater might be somewhere in between,” noted Antonia Mantonakis, Professor of Marketing and a researcher on the study. “We do know from previous research that consumers tend to prefer product pairings that seem to be a not-so-good fit, instead of a perfect fit, and that’s because it seems more intriguing that way.”

Participants were led through the tasting via computer prompts, which specified the wine-athlete pairings, indicated the sports in which the athletes competed, and provided proper wine tasting instructions. They rated the taste of the wine samples and willingness to buy on a 7-point scale, and indicated how much they were willing to pay for the wine in Canadian dollars. Participants also provided their thoughts about why the athletes endorsed the wines, answered demographic and lifestyle questions, and completed a wine knowledge test.

Researchers found that the degree of fit between wine and the endorsing celebrity did not affect the product evaluations of consumers who had little knowledge of wine. In contrast, they found that consumers with more wine knowledge gave the highest taste evaluations to the “Wotherspoon endorsed” wine, and were willing to pay more for this wine although Wotherspoon was perceived to have only a moderate fit with wine.

According to Professor Mantonakis, “This is the first study examining the idea of consumers preferring ‘moderate pairings’ in the context of actually tasting the product. The results are surprising in a number of ways: first, it’s interesting that something as simple as a celebrity athlete’s name, tied to a wine, can have an impact on how it actually tastes! Second, it’s quite fascinating that this finding occurred for the more knowledgeable consumers. And finally, the result of consumers reporting a higher willingness to pay for the moderate pairing was quite neat—so it’s not just that the wine was perceived to taste differently.”