Classical Conditioning and Celebrity Endorsers: An Examination of Belongingness and Resistance to Extinction

This reading talks about the effect of pairing a celebrity with a brand and also by testing the efficacy of such endorsement using classical conditioning procedures.

What is Classical Conditioning?

Classical conditioning is a process by which an unconditioned stimulus (US), a stimulus that naturally produces a response, is paired with a conditioned stimulus (CS), a stimulus that does not naturally produce the response but come to elicit the conditioned response (CR) following the pairing (Shimp, 1991).

Why the use of celebrity endorsements in advertising?


  • Celebrities are more efficient at attracting attention in a world where consumers are inundated with advertising messages.
  • Celebrities already hold a place in consumers’ minds, they are perceived to be more entertaining and trustworthy.


  • Negative publicity could arise if a celebrity becomes part of a scandal or some other negative event.
  • However, using celebrities (victims) involved in negative situations when there is low or no blame can actually help the company.

Overall the process is still viewed as profitable despite the risks.

Aspects of Classical Conditioning.

Belongingness and the Match-Up Hypothesis

Careful consideration typically surrounds the choice of suitable celebrity endorser whereby they are evaluated on a number of criteria to determine the best match for brands.

The match-up hypothesis occurs when ‘highly relevant characteristics of the spokesperson are consistent with highly relevant attributes of the brand. And when there is a perceived fit between the endorser and the brand, both brand recall and affect are increased.


Another important aspect of classical conditioning is the degree to which attitudes are resistant (or not resistant) to extinction. Persistence of classically conditioned attitudes suggests that such attitudes will endure unless individuals are exposed to extinction trials consisting of presenting the brand in the absence of the favorable stimuli. Specifically, the CS (brand) is presented without pairing it with the US (favorable stimulus). The individual then learns that the CS no longer predicts the presence of the US.


H1: Individuals exposed to the systematic pairing of a brand with a celebrity (treatment condition) will develop a more favorable attitude toward the brand than individuals in

H2: Conditioned brand attitudes (difference between the treatment condition and the control condition) will be greater when there is a perceived fit between the brand and the celebrity.

H3: Conditioned brand attitudes (difference between treatment and control conditions) will persist after extinction protocols.

Study 1

  • Was a simple two-group design using a treatment vs control group and employing basic, well-established classical conditioning procedure (Shimp, 1991)
  • The dependent variable was attitude toward the target brand.
  • The treatment group was exposed to systematic pairing of the CS (brand) with the US (celebrity) amid assorted filler image.
  • The control group was exposed to a random mix of the identical images as the test group with no systematic pairing of the CS and US.
  • Experiment was conducted in groups of 25 and 50 subjects during class time where they have to measure the brand attitude after exposing to the pairing for both groups.
  • Results confirmed that a classical conditioning procedure using celebrities as the US can be effective in generating positive attitudes toward a previously affectively neutral brand.

Study 2

  • Was a 2×2 factorial design
  • One factor was treatment vs control condition while the other factor was the perceived fit between the celebrity endorser and the product endorsed.
  • The dependent variable was attitude toward the brand (CS).
  • Similar to Study 1, subjects in the treatment groups were exposed to five CS/US pairings while control group exposed to the same images in random order.
  • The results suggest that conditioning is more effective in brand attitude formation when celebrity fit is high.

Results indicate that simply pairing a well-liked celebrity with a brand can positivity affect brand attitude. Do you agree and what are you views on this topic?


Till B. D., Stanley, S. M. & Priluck, R. (2008). Classical conditioning and celebrity endorsers: An examination of belongingness and
resistance to extinction. Psychology and Marketing, 25, 179-196

– tarrycher


4 comments so far

  1. durianshells on

    I agree that simply pairing a well-liked celebrity would positively affect brand attitude. However, as mentioned by the authors in Study 2 of the reading, celebrities used who are a proper fit with the advertised product will generate much better results. That would be a wiser choice spent for a company’s advertising dollars. An example is Michael Jordan endorsing for MCI which saw his ads drawing low marks in viewer research as compared to his ads for Nike. (
    It could be attributed to his overexposure in various other ads, but some studies have attributed that to celebrity fit and expertise instead.
    A popular person may have the ability to create awareness and initate interest bubt it may not neccessarily change consumer’s attitudes towards the endorsed brand.
    Using such haphazard pairing of celebrities can also be considered lazy advertising, simply using a celebrity is an easy way for the company to promote their products without the need for creativity.

  2. tarrycher on

    Hi durianshells, I strongly agree with you that a proper fit between the celebrity and the brand is important because to achieve a better result in endorsement, the celebrity will have to match with the product, as he/she is used to impart credibility and aspirational value to the brand. Furthermore, a good brands campaign idea and an intrinsic link between the celebrity and the message are musts for a successful campaign. Celebrities are no doubt good at generating attention, recall and positive attitudes towards advertising provided that they are supporting a good idea and there is an explicit fit between them and the brand.

  3. slky87 on

    I agree to a certain extent that pairing a well-liked celebrity with a brand can positivity affect brand attitude. An example will be Gillette dream team campaign which feature, Swiss tennis superstar Roger Federer, French football star Thierry Henry and American professional golfer Tiger Woods. (See below)

    As pointed out by durianshells in his comment on selecting celebrities to fit with the product. The question is, does this dream team assemble by Gillette fits the company’s shaving products? In this advertisement, they are not spotted using the shavers but just showcasing what they do at best. There is no intrinsic link between the celebrities and the products or even the message the campaign wants to convey.

    Moreover, according to Newser (2009), all of these international superstars have been embroiled in controversy; Federer outburst in US Open, Henry intentional handball incident and Woods infamous scandal. These have inflicted heavy blow on Gillette’s campaign with negative publicity. This is an example of risk involved celebrity endorsement as mentioned by Tarry in his blog.

  4. janisuhoshi on

    Tarry has given an overview of Till et al. (2008)’s paper that is succinct and easy to understand. It took me a while to understand the paper and he has summed it up quite well. To answer his question on whether simply pairing a well-liked celebrity with a brand can positivity affect brand attitude, I am inclined to disagree. Same for the view that “conditioned brand attitudes will be greater when there is a perceived fit between the brand and the celebrity” (Till et al., 2008), which the paper seems to promote, I disagree as well. Why so?

    I find that there is a factor that should determine the success of a celebrity endorsement in conditioning brand attitudes, apart from the celebrity’s popularity and perceived fit with the brand. Most of time, advertisers tend to match the brand with a desirable attribute of a celebrity. However, what the advertiser feels is desirable to them, does not necessarily means it will be desirable to their target audience. Sometimes, pairing a celebrity to a brand might in turn, hurt the celebrity’s image.

    Like for example, an advertisement by Maxi-cash (a pawn shop) that had Singaporean celebrity Michelle Chia as their endorser. Pawning jewellery is something that is a rather ‘hush hush’ affair in Singapore. People generally do not go to the pawnshop unless when they are desperate for cash and they do not like to be seen going into a pawnshop (something not glamourous). Pawning is usually linked to gambling problems. When the advertisement was broadcasted, people questioned the intention of the advertisement and why Michelle Chia was helping to promote pawning in Singapore. In the forum, people are wondering if “time (was) really that bad that (even a) Mediacorp artiste (Michelle Chia) needs to go (to a) pawnshop”. The advertiser may have the intention to change the public’s image of pawnshop but it seems to have backfired for failing to understand the target audience.

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