Angelina Jolie breaks the mould for celebrity endorsements

Angelina Jolie is on a historic and hugely important campaign to wipe out rape as a weapon of war. Jolie is unquestionably passionate, driven and committed to her campaign. She has succeeded in pushing the issue to the forefront of global politics while so many other campaign celebrity endorsements fail.

When she speaks, world leaders, politicians, charities and the press hang on her every word. In the Evening Standard this week over 5 pages were dedicated to the campaign – you can’t buy that sort of coverage. And normal celebrities do not trigger it.

Why does Jolie’s celebrity endorsement work when so many others fail?

What is different about her role in a campaign when so many celebrity endorsements are unhelpful and dangerous for campaigns? Jolie has orchestrated and fuelled a sensational, emotive and effective worldwide campaign. The success of the campaign has been partly due to her celebrity status, but far more importantly her unwavering belief in the cause. She is a serious long term campaigner – this isn’t a gig for her.

Jolie has not been dragged out by a politician to make an unenthusiastic written-for-her-speech or to give a few worthy, but plastic, quotes. In fact it has been the exact opposite. From the Prime Minister to the Pope, and heads of state all over the world, Jolie herself has tirelessly pushed the issue to the front line of international politics and conflict resolution. Unlike many celebrity endorsed campaigns, it has been Jolie who has inspired the politicians to take action, Jolie who has instilled passion in the general public and Jolie who has tried to bring light and hope to victims of some of the most appalling atrocities in the world.

This is what makes Jolie different. British politics is littered with superficial and plastic celebrity campaign endorsements. Celebrity political endorsements are usually shallow and unenthusiastic – either used by politicians as a cheap ploy to win over the public or earn a headline, or used as a platform for the celebrities to promote themselves.

The current campaign on Scottish independence has seen celebrity endorsements deployed for both sides of the campaign. It began when David Bowie proclaimed his support for the ‘No’ side during an acceptance of a Brit music award. I think it unlikely that his five words on the complex independence debate (“Scotland, please stay with us”) will have any impact, nor that Bowie believes that he has much sway over Scottish voters. One thing is for sure, a small comment at a music award ceremony allowed Bowie to linger around the news sites for weeks – but how many votes will it actually trigger. How many pro-independence voters will actually go and vote the other way because that endorsement actually gets up their nose? 

Other stars have waded into, or been recruited for, the independence debate. Sean Connery, a current resident in the Bahamas, came out in favour of Scottish independence while on holiday in Miami. As did comedians Frankie Boyle and Kevin Bridges. For what electoral profit?

Sir Alex Ferguson, an unsuccessful campaigner for the introduction of congestion charges to Manchester, came out in favour of Scotland remaining part of the UK.

Comedian Eddie Izzard campaigned for joining the Euro and introducing the alternative vote (AV) voting system in the 2011 referendum. Izzard, who is believed to have higher political ambitions, was a prominent voice in the pro-AV campaign and has been criticised by some as diluting the message of the campaign. I am not sure he was the only reason for the Yes campaign losing – but lose they did.

On the No2AV campaign we used the tragically now far-too-early deceased Rik Mayall to parody the AV system. Rik and his Alan B’stard character resonated with the public and the role he played was totally consistent with the message we were putting across.

I don’t doubt that these celebrities truly have an opinion on political issues, but when a celebrity is wheeled out by politicians to further a cause the campaign can lose it’s substance and become a game of who gets the best/most celebs. It can cause a campaign to focus on PR and lose its message and vision, when its focus should be on the issues instead of a parade of celebrity news and gossip.

More importantly the ego, the independent platform and un-tameness of the celebrity can actually sabotage a campaign. Robert Kilroy-Silk gave UKIP some much needed PR – but he later gave them far too much pain and many headaches. Celebrity endorsements often give campaign managers a quick sugar rush followed by a tummy ache.

This is where Angelina Jolie’s campaign is different. She seriously gives a damn. She is part of the campaign – she just happens to be a celebrity. She believes. She is not a promotional tacked-on PR sideshow. This is a campaign of real substance fuelled by an authentic desire and drive for change in which she is a key and integral part. All politicians (and celebrities) can learn from it.

Read more about the Jolie-fuelled anti-rape campaign here:


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