Can Celebrities Pull, not push, New Quality in Products?

Imagine if some celebrities, instead of being paid to endorse brands publically declared that they would purchase a given product only if it is improved. What a boon it would be to millions of consumers.
Presently, one sees movie stars, singers, athletes, ex-athletes and even former politicians appearing on television and endorsing some soft drink, automobile, beer or cosmetic. Geraldine Ferraro and Michael Jackson associate their names with different brands of coke. Bill Cosby pitched for Ford Motor Co. and more recently for E.F. Hutton. And Danny Thomas, Ed MacMahon and former football coach John Madden have promoted a variety of products and services.

But have you ever seen any winter sports hero come on television and say he or she will buy an all terrain vehicle only if it is made safer? Or a respected actor tells viewers that s/he will ccntinue to “leave home without it” until credit card interest rates come down below a certain percentage?

Well I decided not to wait any longer to try out the idea. Nine certified celebrities have signed a pledge that I sent to them. They agreed to purchase an air Sag equipped automobile from the first manufacturer who provides, as standard equipment, full front seat air bags in a total model line whose sales were at least 200,000 vehicles, or whose production run is at least 200,000 in the first year of introduction.

Signing the air bag pledge are Paul Newman, Abigail Van Buren, Burt Reynolds, Bill Murray, Dustin Hoffman, Phil Donahue, Dan Akyroyd, Steve Allen and Ed Asner. Most companies would drool over the prospect of hiring such famous people to make endorsements. But how will these companies view this new role of celebrities as conditional buyers of their products only after they are improved?

To find out I have written the vice presidents for marketing of ten automobile companies. They may scratch their heads for a while before responding. But it would take only a moment for them to conceive of the scenario.

Let’s say that Ford Motor Company, already offering a few driver-side only air bags as an option on its Tempo and Topaz models, decides to install th-m as standard equipment across the whole front seat. The above famous pledgors buy the car. The news value is genuine and not like insincere endorsements for substantial pay. Many potential car buyers take notice. Commentators comment. Television and radio reports. Pictures appear in newspapers. Voila — pretty soon some other celebrities make well conceived pledges conditioned on healthier, safer, cleaner, better, more reasonably priced goods and services. More voila — an important dimension is added to the consumer movement and disciplines the advertising endorsement game.

Celebrities, who condition their future purchases, come across as persons who want to set an example that will help the well-being of many people. The stars from various callings begin to use their renown, from the head and the heart, to set events in motion that will produce the ripples of change.

Well, let’s see how this thinking, volunteer celebrity impact develops. If regulation is the stick, then Dear Abby and her fellow collaborators may be the carrot. Your turn, auto companies!

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