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Should health and wellness brands steer clear of celebrity influencers?

Katie McGraw Amanda Fountain

Have the Kardashians and Fyre Festival ruined the marriage of convenience between healthcare products and celebrity endorsers? Two leading PR pros offer their take on whether or not celebrity influencers are still a viable option for brands in the health and wellness arena.


Katie McGraw, VP of healthcare, Shift Communications
As healthcare continues to embrace patients as consumers, it is critically important health and wellness brands consider more consumer-driven approaches to gain awareness with key audiences. One way of doing this is for health and wellness brands to consider working with celebrity influencers. However, this must be done in an intelligent, earnest way.

At the onset, healthcare brands must consider the return on investment in relation to broader business goals. While health and wellness brands will undoubtedly get more visibility with a celebrity influencer, they must also consider if it’s the type of visibility they want, with the right audience and if it is also on message. They must also carefully weigh the risks associated with this type of brand involvement.

The reality being that celebrities are constantly under the spotlight and one wrong move can cast an unwanted halo effect that then impacts not only that celebrities’ personal brand but also that of the company. Examples such as Angelina Jolie sharing her story in relation to breast cancer and her double mastectomy showcase how far reaching a celebrity’s story can be.

As does the example of Jenny McCarthy and her anti-vaxxer movement back in the day. Both point to the ability of celebrities to educate and motivate the general public in relation to healthcare decision-making – be it good or bad decision-making.

Clearly, healthcare professionals themselves are the first line of defense when it comes to engaging and educating consumers. Nonetheless, celebrities are highly influential. The sheer breadth of their notoriety has the potential to sway buying decisions for a vast group of people at a national and even a global level.

The reality is many people put celebrities on a pedestal. They look to dress like them, act like them, or even approach healthcare-related decisions like them.

With this in mind, healthcare companies and regulating bodies must consider the potential positive impact of celebrity involvement. There is much promise in using the right celebrity – one who aligns with your organizational values and speaks to the audiences you are trying to reach – to drive visibility for your brand, even if celebrities are still fallible, just like the rest of us.


Amanda Fountain, social and digital strategy manager, LPP

The notoriety of a celebrity influencer touting your brand’s name may be appealing, but for many pharma, health, and wellness brands, it’s not worth the investment. The recent Federal Trade Commission crackdown on celebrity endorsements has changed how consumers perceive those relationships.

Previously, brands were taking advantage of the celebrity influencer relationship using vague (and often non-existent) disclosures – think Kardashian-Jenner Instagram. Misleading disclosures made it seem like these influencers had an authentic relationship to whatever they were shilling.

While the FTC is ok with influencers being paid to share their “love” of whatever product or brand they want, these payments must be disclosed clearly and conspicuously.

Without clear disclosure, consumers may have viewed these celebrity endorsements as authentic reviews of products – strengthening their own perception and relationship with the brand. Now that the FTC is enforcing disclosure rules, the value of those “authentic” endorsements is diminished. That feeling of “this person who I look up to actually likes this brand” is gone. Now, it feels less like authentic content and more like a TV advertisement, and consumers may become more critical of this approach.

Further, the engagement value from a celebrity influencer post is diminishing. According to research from Klear, celebrity influencers have seen a 14% drop in engagement for sponsored posts. While there’s no direct tie from this data to the FTC disclosure crackdown, it’s not hard to see a correlation. The question pharma, health, and wellness brands have to ask is whether the price tag is worth the murky ROI.

Looking at the anticipated ROI, celebrity influencers cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single post, depending on the celeb. For anything but the biggest brands, that’s a hefty price tag that doesn’t come with a neat little report on the tangible value later. In fact, brands can expect to only see a 2% to 5% percent engagement rate from celebrity influencers’ audiences.

But all is not lost for the influencer-brand relationship. While celebrity influencers have high costs and lower engagement rates, micro-influencers see engagement rates between 5% and 50%. And the authenticity that comes from these “power-middle” influencers can make their impact even greater.

Overall, the high costs coupled with diminished value from the disclosure missteps make celebrity influencers a risky investment for pharma, health, and wellness brands.


Be careful! There’s no denying the influence of celebrities, but make sure they’re playing by the rules before featuring them in campaigns.


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