By: Victoria Greenwald and Isaac Green
Tiger Woods for Accenture, Justin Bieber for Calvin Klein, a slew of beautiful and successful young people for Cover Girl: the celebrity endorsement has long been a marketing tool used by businesses, and a successful one at that. From makeup to money lending, slapping the face and name of a celebrity on the product has been shown to increase its purchase at least 4% in the first 6 months, with some companies seeing results as high as a 20% increase. Celebrities bring their diverse fanbases and their implicit guarantee that the sponsored product is of the highest quality and importance.
So if such results happen for material goods, what happens when celebrities endorse common goods, like reading, education, or gun control? As long as celebrities have been endorsing products, they’ve also been throwing their social capital behind causes: the Spice Girls supported girl’s rights with the U.N., a myriad of celebrities made a powerful ad for Demand a Plan following the Sandy Hook school shooting, and, most recently, actress and activist Emma Watson has started a social media-based book club promoting reading and community among the masses.
The Reading Problem
Time Magazine reported in 2014 that only 45% of teens read for pleasure once or twice a year, with the majority of teens reporting “hardly ever” as their amount of reading for fun. 2015 didn’t see a notable turnaround, according to the Guardian, with the amount of young children turning to books for entertainment is in “sharp decline.” The Guardian predicted as such two years previously in 2013, noting a rise in non-reading kiddos and their higher usage of apps and technology. And it’s not just the kids–The Atlantic reported in 2013 that less than half of adults read literature for fun.
Emma Watson – Our Shared Shelf
“Our Shared Shelf,” is the name given to Emma Watson’s feminist book club, started in just January of this year. A large part of the success of this book club comes from Emma’s intensely devoted group of followers, who have watched her grow and mature from the young star in the Harry Potter series, to become the incredibly outspoken and courageous women’s rights advocate that she is today.
After her graduation from Brown University in 2014, Emma was offered a position as the Women Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations in July of that same year—she was 24 years old at the time. In January of 2016, when asked about her inspiration for the book club, the now 26-year-old responded saying,
“As part of my work with UN Women, I have started reading as many books and essays about equality as I can get my hands on … there is so much amazing stuff out there! Funny, inspiring, sad, thought-provoking, empowering!”
The reasons for the success of her campaign is two-fold; her devoted fan group and her unwavering commitment to feminist rights fuel both her campaign and her career. But even more than this, her commitment to honesty—something that is hard to come by amongst today’s celebrities.
In the world of Kylie Jenner, the Kardashians and Miley Cyrus, it’s hard to find celebrity role models for young and the maturing women to really look up to these days. Good repute (in regards to both basic morals and a sensitivity towards perceived fan response) is something hard kept for celebrities— in an instant a real or even invalid, viral tweet can destroy a hard built reputation. This is why it is especially necessary to tread the line with caution— and thus far Emma Watson has done this, as proven through the years.
But back to the book club.
The name, “Our Shared Shelf” was created by Emma’s own twitter following when she tweeted asking her followers for “a more inspiring name,” than her original ideas. The following day, Watson chose the name “Our Shared Shelf”, which was proposed by one of her 20.4 million followers. Immediately it was supported by other female celebrities including Sophia Bush and the U.S. soccer star Abby Wambach.
The social media-based book club harnesses the power of technology, which until now has posed a threat to readership, and instead uses it to create an international community, which must have the founders of Twitter and Instagram beaming.
As part of this primarily digital campaign, Emma has also been leaving her chosen books on the London underground in secret places, encouraging “finders” to (as the sticker on the front says) “read it, then leave it for someone else to enjoy”.
This promotion of “common goods” such as education and reading is obviously a step in the right direction for the encouragement, to whatever degree, of literacy and edification. Whether they align their beliefs with Emma Watson or not, celebrities should take notes on Emma’s methods, focusing less on ideas of materiality and beauty and more on becoming greater advocates for the improvement of humanity.