Clever celebrity endorsement of charities inevitably makes headlines. Everyone remembers Bono and Bob Geldof singing for Make Poverty History, or Angelina Jolie in refugee camps surrounded by children. Doubtless, celebrities create hype, news and attention. Yet, after all the hype dies down, how many of us remember the real reason behind it all?
DiCaprio’s new documentary Before the Flood touches on the question of why he should be the face of climate change for the UN. Is he not just a film star who participated in a few government initiatives in the 90s, with “zero years’ training”, to quote the programme? Should someone who flies around the world and participates in lavish events try to persuade the world that we need to do something now about the destruction of the environment? When it is put like that, it seems quite naïve that we are so easily persuaded by a man who is known for his good looks and spending his summers lounging on yachts with supermodels. However, we do need something to grab the eye of the average person and make them change their habits, volunteer or even donate that little bit; things that, when added together, do make a huge difference.
Leo came to Edinburgh last week to visit Home, a café whose proceeds go to homeless charities. All you had to do was donate £10 and you got the chance to have a dishy dinner date with DiCaprio. I can’t find any fault with this; the cause was massively promoted and thousands of pounds were raised. Yet, bigger campaigns have gone horribly wrong. Take Naomi Campbell and her campaign ‘I’d rather go naked than wear fur’ for Peta. It was devastatingly undermined when she wore real fur to Milan Fashion Week the following year. This massively impacted Peta’s funding and discredited their cause. The fact that charities’ causes can be so easily rocked by the whims of celebrities underlines why the money used for these campaigns should perhaps be put to direct use.
On the other hand, on average celebrities support their first chosen charity for 11.2 years. In this time, they can appeal to a much wider audience than ordinary advertising can. What is more, our obsession with celebrity culture means that these pampered figures appeal to a much younger demographic. Getting the younger generation on side is crucial, since these issues will affect the world they grow up in. Celebrities have money, contacts, and power to influence not only the average person, but also political leaders. Joanna Lumley is one such household name who has made a real difference. She has achieved great things, and her indispensable fight on the side of the Gurkhas immediately springs to mind.
It is all too easy to play devil’s advocate when discussing these kinds of issues. Deep down, there are some fundamental flaws in the world of celebrity endorsement, and charities’ choices should be carefully considered. But, at a time when the horrors happening across the world are immediately visible, when climate change is wreaking havoc in some of the poorest areas, we should use all our resources to make changes for the better.
Image: John Gillespie