The Allure of Celebrities: Unpacking Their Polysemic Consumer Appeal




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European Journal of Marketing



Peer reviewed



To explain their deep resonance with consumers this paper unpacks the individual constituents of a celebrity’s polysemic appeal. While celebrities are traditionally theorised as unidimensional ‘semiotic receptacles of cultural meaning’, we conceptualise them here instead as human beings/performers with a multi-constitutional, polysemic consumer appeal. Supporting evidence is drawn from autoethnographic data collected over a total period of 25 months and structured through a hermeneutic analysis. In ‘rehumanising’ the celebrity, the study finds that each celebrity offers the individual consumer a unique and very personal parasocial appeal as a) the performer, b) the ‘private’ person behind the public performer, c) the tangible manifestation of either through products, and d) the social link to other consumers. The stronger these constituents, individually or symbiotically, appeal to the consumer’s personal desires the more s/he feels emotionally attached to this particular celebrity. Although using autoethnography means that the breadth of collected data is limited, the depth of insight this approach garners sufficiently unpacks the polysemic appeal of celebrities to consumers. The findings encourage talent agents, publicists and marketing managers to reconsider underlying assumptions in their talent management and/or celebrity endorsement practices. While prior research on celebrity appeal has tended to enshrine celebrities in a “dehumanised” structuralist semiosis, which erases the very idea of individualised consumer meanings, this paper reveals the multi-constitutional polysemy of any particular celebrity’s personal appeal as a performer and human being to any particular consumer.


The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version.


Celebrity, Stardom, Consumer Appeal, Human Brands, Parasocial Relationships, Experiential Consumption, Autoethnography, Cultural heritage and cultural production


Wohlfeil, M., Patterson, A. and Gould, S.J. (2019) The Allure of Celebrities: Unpacking Their Polysemic Consumer Appeal. European Journal of Marketing, 53(10), pp.2025–2053.


Research Institute