Standing on the shoulders of giants: Discussing the Psychology of Celebrities, Emotion & Sponsorship

by David Sands, analyst at Adoreboard & Toneapi

I recently worked on a study with Toneapi, looking at what drives emotion and popularity on Twitter. The study revealed that Harry Styles was the happiest celebrity on Twitter during the first half of 2015.

Aside from discussing the viral nature of expressing emotions, I thought it would be a great idea to explore both why celebrities are admired and valued around the world, and also why we have a fanatic fascination with them.

Happiest Celebrities on Twitter 2015

What is a celebrity?

A celebrity has been defined as long ago as 1961. In his book The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America, Daniel Boorstin stated that: “The celebrity is a person who is known for his well-knownness.” Put simply, a person is a celebrity if they’re well-known.

Image source: Just Jared

Thus the argument that Kim Kardashian ‘has not done anything’ to be worthy of being a celebrity is invalid.

She is a celebrity because many people know about her.

Talent, personality or usefulness does not count.

Parasocial Relationships

One of the proposed reasons for the meteoritic rise of celebrity fandom is the breakdown in typical social structures. The traditional nuclear family is gone, kids spend more hours on gadgets than talking to their friends and the secularisation of society has destroyed the extended social network of churches. However, humans are still social beings and so look for social relationships.

Willingly or not, celebrities have filled this gap by providing parasocial relationships;

“One-sided relationships, where one person extends emotional energy, interest and time, and the other party, the persona, is completely unaware of the other’s existence.”

The interesting thing about this type of relationship is the flow of emotion — it’s one way.

Fans are sending all their emotions toward celebrities by either siding with their views (retweeting their tweets) or valuing their views (favoriting their tweets), while they expect nothing in return.

It is almost as if relationships with celebrities stimulate people in areas regular relationships can’t.

The Halo Effect

Another reason for why celebrities seem valued is due to the Halo Effect — the tendency for a positive perception of an entity to spill over onto other aspects of that entity. Because most (but not all) celebrities are famous for possessing excellent skills in a certain area (Sports, Music, Acting, Business), they are respected and viewed positively for that skill.

Image Source: Psychology for Marketers

This positive perception then spills over onto other aspects of the celebrity, causing us to think they are as skilled in their product choices, their life skills and their ability to entertain us forever.

Such a belief paritally explains the widespread love for celebrites by big brands and large sponsorship deals.

Celebrities are filling the gap left by a changing social environment, they benefit from the Halo Effect around their core skillset opening them up to huge sponsorship opportunities by benefiting from what’s known as emotional association.


However as previous research has revealed, brands and talent must be aligned emotionally and hold similar values for a partnership to be successful.