Consumer socialization refers to the process by which young people learn skills, knowledge, and attitudes from others through communication, which then assist them in functioning as consumers in the marketplace (Moschis and Churchill, 1978). The socialization theory maintains that “socialization agents” “transmit norms, attitudes, motivations, and behaviours to the learner” (Moschis and Churchill, 1978). A socialization agent can be described as a source of influence, which can be either an individual or company which is directly associated with the person and are found in the literature to be parents, peers, mass media, school, and through viewing television (Bush, 2004).
A strength of consumer socialization theory is that it has been used to establish how, through modelling, how consumers can learn through thought processes and consumption behaviours (Moschis and Churchill, 1978). A role model is anyone who can influence an individual consumer’s consumption decision of which the consumer has come in contact with (Bandura, 1977). As defined it is clear that the individual can have numerous role models, including teachers, friends and teachers; likewise, there have been many studies conducted surrounding the subject of how both peers and parents can influence consumption decisions of an individual (Carlson et al, 1994; Childers and Rao, 1992; Kim, Yang and Lee, 2015).
Although, there is a lack of literature investigating how role models impact young people where they have a lack of or little direct contact. Lockwood and Kunda (1997) found that individuals whom achieve outstanding achievement can act as role models to other people, which motivates young adults (18-35 years) (Petry, 2002) to adopt certain lifestyle patterns and self-images. Role models which fall under the bracket of influencing consumption behaviour without direct contact or meeting the consumer would be those on the internet through social media, as well as through newspapers or magazines. As acknowledged by Bandura (1986) these role models are known as vicarious role models. Therefore accordingly, anyone that an individual may come into contact with, whether that be an indirect or direct interaction can influence that individuals’ consumption decision.
The literature produced observed how vicarious role models can influence individuals on many different dependent variables, such as the impact of media portrayals of role models and its impact on occupational goals in women (Hopper-Losenicky, 2017), career aspirations (King and Multon, 1996) and how wishful identification with television characters can influence perceived similarity and character attributes of young adults (Hoffner and Buchanan, 2005). To summarise, the studies highlighted show that vicarious role models can adopt the role of socialization agents which can significantly impact occupational ambitions and self-views of young adults (Farren, 2018).
Celebrity athlete influence: Vicarious role model
The sports and entertainment industry is rapidly expanding, with the UK market currently valued between £500-750 million and forecast to surpass £1 billion is revenue by 2022 (Kolah, 2013). Concurrent with the expansion, marketing agencies have grew their portfolios by embracing sports sponsorship and marketing evidenced by the $5.77 billion growth in the last 10 years in the North American market (statista, 2018). It is now commonplace for a sports brand to have a vicarious role model as represented by a celebrity athlete spokesperson.
Nike and Uniqlo chose larger-than-life spokespeople (Brooks and Harris, 1998) like Michael Jordan and Roger Federer with deals worth $10billion (Ergdogan et al. 2001; Ding et al. 2010) and $300milion (businessofashion.com). A recent study by Harvard Business School concluded that having a renowned celebrity in brand advertisement can increase a company’s sales annually by 10 million dollars and spurs a .25% increase in stock returns (Tomaszek, 2015).
The reasoning for using celebrity endorsements is well documented in the literature; Costanzo & Goonight (2006) found that using a celebrity to endorse a brand will result in higher brand recall. Research has also suggested that celebrity endorsers can exercise influence as they are perceived as highly dynamic and have attractive and likeable qualities (Atkin and Block, 1983). Hakimi et al (2011) proposed that attractive endorsers improve a brand’s image and increase purchase intention of the brand. It has also been hypothesized that celebrity athlete endorsers, through their status and physical attractiveness, can add value to the product being endorsed (Freidman and Freidman, 1979). Whilst this research has increased our knowledge and understanding of celebrity endorsers and endorsements, few have measured the impact of celebrity athlete endorsements on young people as consumers. To assess the influence of a vicarious role model such as the celebrity athlete on young people this study uses consumer socialization as the theory underpinning this investigation. In theory, it is believed that the celebrity athlete will act as a socialization agent in a young persons’ consumer socialization process.
Behavioural Intentions: Results of socialization
The outcomes (or consumer skills) are a result of the socialization process which comes from the learning of consumer behaviours. One of these outcomes that may be particularly important to marketers is behavioural intentions, as these behaviours relate to whether a customer views a brand favourably or unfavourably.