Would you buy these shoes just because Paris Hilton was holding them or wearing them? According to a new study, you probably wouldn’t run out the door to find them, but you would be more likely to pay attention and remember the shoes.
I like shoes, though probably not as much as “the next girl”. Honestly, I’m more of a sock gal.
The Dutch team of researchers found that if my favorite celeb were to show up in an ad wearing a funky pair of over-the-knee socks, I would be more likely to snap to attention and remember those socks than if just any attractive woman were wearing them.
When confronted with a celebrity, the team documented heightened activity in a certain part of the brain – the medial oribitofrontal cortex. The same was not observed when pictures of an attractive non-celebrity were presented.
What’s going on here?
Is it that women think celebrities are cool and they want to be like them? The “fame factor”?
Sort of. Here’s my theory.
One of the most fascinating things about the brain is that it is an organ that runs all by itself, without conscious thought, and that much of the “programming” is quite ancient, established and handed down generation to generation from the time when we lived in groups out in the wild. It was programmed to interpret stimuli, and to react quickly to much of that stimuli, without having to access timely and costly conscious thought. This means the brain will react to false stimuli, or mimicry, in much the same way it reacts to real stimuli.
All media is mimicry of real stimuli.
Trust, being crucial to our survival as a communal species, is powerful to our brains. We tend to trust those we know more than we trust strangers (though we trust strangers too, which is why we can so easily be duped by con-men). Still, we trust what’s familiar, and through technology, celebrities are brought to us in the virtual flesh through televisions, movies, and the internet. We become familiar with them. Our brain thinks we know them.
Another thing going on is that as a species we tend to emulate and follow the Alphas in the group. Again, though celebrities are arbitrary Alphas, our brains don’t know the difference. Our brains are duped into thinking that fame is leadership. Fame is Alpha.
Harking back to the our early times when we needed the group to survive, Alphas were those in the group willing to take the first step into the dark woods, to poke their stick into that new hole, to drop their toe into those foreign murky waters, to get close enough to sniff the newcomer while the rest of the pack hung back. So when the Alpha does something new, and it works out for them, we are deeply programmed to follow. Deeply programmed to let the Alpha lead the way, and to follow them.
How to Use the Fame Factor
Big businesses will do what they will, and they can afford to hire big Hollywood guns. And they do so at their own risk, since we all know celebrities tend to be narcissists, and narcissists tend to behave poorly in the end. Small to mid-sized businesses are priced out of using the fame factor, and it’s just as well. We could all use a little less celebrity worship.
The good news is that there are other more ethical, accessible strategies. Here are a few suggestions:
- Implement Social Proof with testimonials, social media, audience engagement, etc.
- If you’re lucky enough to have a highly likable, affable team member, make them your spokesperson. Just be sure they plan on hanging around for a long while.
- Go the way of Geico and create your own lovable character.
- Get your product, service, or cause in front of influencers who are most aligned with what you’ve got to offer. If they pick it up on their own, this is infinitely better than paying a spokesperson — not because it’s cheaper, but because the endorsement is more honest and believable.
Don’t Fall for Fame
Like it or not, we are deeply, primally wired. Humans have a tendency to selectively defend their behaviors with this knowledge depending on what they want to keep or throw out, but get immediately up in arms if someone tries to exploit these hard-wired weaknesses. I get it, and your best defense? Slow down, take time to think, learn about human behavior so you know what drives you, accept what isn’t harmful to you per se, don’t be afraid of it, don’t be afraid of some fun, and always rememember…Paris Hilton is a media-construct.