This case was no longer in headlines since quite a while. Things suddenly changed when this celebrity joined the ‘cause’. Which triggers me to question, is celebrity public relations still cogent in contemporary society? News items prove it, YES!
The Supreme Court case of Chagos Archipelago has taken another level of attention and exposure with the coming of 37-year-old human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney to represent the Indian Ocean islanders who want to return to their native country after being evicted in the 1960s and 1970s. If you are unaware, Britain evicted the islanders, so the United States military could build an air base on Diego Garcia, which is the largest island in Chagos Archipelago.
While her husband, Hollywood actor George Clooney, is off on a motorcycle road trip with best friend Rande Gerber, Amal Clooney has been hard at work in London, fighting her latest legal battle in Britain’s Supreme Court. And this case precipitously gets momentum with headlines from illustrious newsrooms:
“Amal Clooney launches Supreme Court appeal on behalf of Chagos islanders” – The Telegraph, 22 June 2015
Putting aside Chagossians’ (also Îlois’ or Chagos Islanders’) fight for injustice, I wish to elaborate in this article the debate to whether using Amal Clooney as a celebrity to endorse this particular cause proved useful or not.
Toncar et al’s study of 2007 indicated that almost 20% of worldwide causes and advertising use celebrities as a key to success. Celebrities are likely to bring brand recognition and higher chances of cause to be recognised.
“…the product or issue being promoted by the celebrity will certainly influence audience perceptions. Similarly, some celebrities will be perceived as more attractive because of their celebrity status.” (Toncar et al., 2007:260)
Use of celebrities in promoting a cause is seen effective in one of the three following cases: Launch, Reinforcement or Repositioning (Pringle, 2004). Lebanon-born barrister Amal Clooney returned to her native England to help her firm, Doughty Street Chambers, in their efforts to overturn a 2008 ruling that saw Chagos Islanders unable to reclaim their land. Per se, Amal’s involvement is helping the Chagos case to shift its position towards a higher visibility level, and this certainly influences public opinion.
According to Shimp (2003) in Al Zoubi (2011), the effectiveness of a celebrity’s endorsement for a cause may be evaluated with Five Essential attributes (TEARS model): Trustworthiness, Expertise, Attractiveness, Respect and Similarity. Celebrities earn the audience’s trust by their achievements. Here, it is palpable that Amal is known less as a lawyer, and more as the wife of George Clooney. On 24 June 2015, Le Défi Quotidien came up with the headline, “L’épouse de George Clooney apporte son soutien à la cause chagossienne” (TR. “Wife of George Clooney Brings Her Support to the Chagos Cause”).
People also tend to believe celebrities who have nothing for self-interest by brand promotion and only support the best cause. Amal Clooney had previously represented Armenia in a Genocide trial and fought on Greece’s behalf for the return of the historical Elgin Marbles. Her clients include Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, in his fight against extradition. She has also represented the former prime minister of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko. Having previous experience with international legal cases and being the wife of one of the Most Influential People in the World (Time, 2009), Amal proves herself as a trustworthy expert in this fight for Chagos Islanders.
Attractiveness includes physical attractiveness, respect and similarity (Shimp, 2003, in Al Zauri, 2011). These attributes are more significant in endorsement relationships. Attractiveness also determines celebrities’ lifestyle, skills and participation in the cause they support. Amal Clooney is physically attractive and a fashion icon. In the words of Glamour.com (2014), “Ever since George Clooney introduced the name Amal Alamuddin to the fashion world, we’ve collectively been captivated. Yes, she’s smart, successful, and stunningly gorgeous, but there’s something so individual and sophisticated about her fashion choices that she feels like a major style icon in the making.”
The main goal of using celebrities in brand endorsement is to convince people to adopt celebrity lifestyle, their behaviour and promote the fight for the cause as a result.
However, Zafer Erdogan (1999) highlighted that despite many benefits of celebrity endorsement in ads, there is a hazard of the brand being overshadowed by the celebrity. Audiences may often pay more attention to the celebrity itself, underestimating the cause’s appeal, especially if there is no strong connection between the celebrity and the cause. Celebrities participate in causes of public interest to promote and populate themselves amongst diverse publics. (Erdogan, 1999).
After joining the fight for Chagos Archipelago, the prominence of Amal Clooney has increased significantly. This also may be evidenced by the fact that the majority of newspaper campaign reviews rather focus on Amal and her background than on the crux of the fight.