Celebrities have long been used to advertise products and to endorse brands. Previous studies on celebrity endorsements found that they featured in at least one fifth of UK ads, and that athlete endorsements in particular can generate a 4% increase in product sales. It’s clear that, at least in some cases, celebrity endorsements really can contribute to a company’s success.
In recent years, platforms such as Twitter and Instagram have allowed celebrities to share their thoughts to an audience of millions without being subject to the filters of traditional media. Occasionally, an off-the-cuff endorsement (or denouncement) by a celebrity can impact a company’s valuation in an unpredictable fashion, to the benefit or detriment of investors.
Let’s take a look at how the actions of celebrities can affect the stock market, and see what conclusions we might be able to draw from these examples.
Elon Musk’s celebrity CEO status and his penchant for viral tweets has created quite a few market stirs over the years. Musk is, at the time of writing, the world’s richest person, his fortune amassed from entrepreneurial ventures as either a founder, co-founder or early investor of boundary pushing tech companies such as Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Company, Neuralink and Open AI.
As one of the world’s biggest and most disruptive business magnates, Musk has developed an influential celebrity status and arguably his very own ‘brand’, complete with a passionate fanbase. Whether you love them or loathe them, Musk’s tweets are more than just viral curiosities. They have a measurable impact, particularly within the world of finance.
In August of 2018, Musk tweeted: ‘Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured’. Understandably, this declaration caused quite a stir and briefly raised Tesla’s share price by as much as 13.3%. However, the validity of Musk’s tweets quickly came under scrutiny from the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), who eventually sued him over the offending tweets, claiming them to be misleading and damaging to investors. This resulted in Musk and Tesla paying $20 million fines apiece in the ensuing settlement, with Musk being forced to step down as chairman of the company and agreeing to have any similar future tweets reviewed by his legal team prior to posting.
But Musk’s Twitter fingers didn’t stop there. In May of 2020, he infamously tweeted ‘Tesla stock price is too high imo’ (in my opinion). This bizarre post saw the company’s shares falling sharply down by over 10%, wiping away nearly $14 billion in value. Although swiftly rebounding, the fact that such fluctuations could be caused by a few impulsive thumb taps on the part of Musk led many to see the tweets as irresponsible. Apparently the tweet was not vetted prior to posting, which would potentially violate Musk’s agreement with the SEC.
The entrepreneur’s influence spreads beyond his own empire. While being generally crypto-positive, Musk’s relationship with Bitcoin has shifted over time. For example, after announcing that Tesla would no longer accept Bitcoin for transactions in May of this year (citing the coin’s ‘insane’ energy usage), the currency’s value dropped by up to 15%. Just a few months later, Musk stated that Tesla would accept Bitcoin in the future once it becomes more sustainable, this time surging the crypto’s value by nearly 10%.
Sometimes celebrities don’t need any business relation to a company to affect its stock price. Occasionally, they’re just sharing their opinion on something, but the size of their platform and strength of their influence gives their valuation a powerful weight to it – and naturally, others follow.
Kardashian influencer Kylie Jenner did just that with her now infamous tweet about Snapchat from 2018. Lamenting the current state of the app, she tweeted: ‘Sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me… ugh this is so sad’. At the time, Snapchat was undergoing a controversial redesign, and Jenner’s tweet seemed to resonate with many. As a result, shares in Snap Inc. – the developers of Snapchat – swiftly plummeted, dropping by 8% at their lowest point. Although Jenner followed up her initial tweet with a more supportive and sentimental statement (‘Still love you tho snap … my first love’), the damage was already done. In fact, Snap didn’t really recover their share price until June of 2020. These days Snap is rebounding from its previous position, but it’s safe to say that Jenner’s tweets left a lasting wound on their app’s public perception.
Of course, we can’t pin all the blame on a single tweet. App redesigns of this kind tend to risk a change in company valuation, particularly if the user base isn’t receptive to the changes. Jenner certainly wasn’t the only one complaining about Snapchat, but she did carry the loudest mouth piece – one that investors heard loud and clear.
Celebrity athletes and sports tournaments represent some of the most lucrative sponsorship opportunities for brands. The 2020 UEFA European Football Championship had a number of official sponsors, chief among them being Coca-Cola. The Cola company wanted their name front and centre, strategically placing bottles of their soft drink on press conference tables in arm’s reach of the world’s most beloved athletes.
However, not all players fancied a swig of the soda. Cristiano Ronaldo, often regarded as the world’s best football player and one of the biggest names in the game (and in sports for that matter), pushed two bottles of Coca-Cola away from him during a pre-match conference. The drinks had been placed on his desk as a form of advertisement, but instead Ronaldo made room for a bottle of his own preferred beverage: “Água!” (water), which he exclaimed to journalists with a smile.
A minor gesture perhaps, but apparently it was a big deal. Soon press headlines seemed to spell bad news for the beverage giant: Ronaldo’s denouncement had cost them some $4 billion in market value. Had this otherwise lucrative sponsorship turned into a marketing disaster?
Analyses by the likes of Nasdaq and Forbes pointed out that yes, Coca-Cola’s value was down by $4 billion at the time of the conference, but the responsibility didn’t rely on Ronaldo. In fact, Coca-Cola’s market value had dipped by $4 billion in comparison to the previous day before Ronaldo had even moved the bottles. That’s not to say that Ronaldo’s actions had no impact at all – it’s just that his influence on Cola’s falling shares were very much overblown. Keep in mind: though a huge figure, $4 billion in this case represents less than a 2% stock price drop. Looking back now, it was hardly doom and gloom for one of the largest corporations in the world.
As we’ve seen, the actions of celebrities can definitely influence the stock market. Investor sensitivity to the news cycle can result in dramatic fluctuations that tend to end up correcting themselves within a matter of days or even hours. However, in other cases, celebrities really can have a lasting influence on a stock’s valuation, sometimes for years on end.
It never hurts to keep on top of relevant celebrities personal investments, brand endorsements and controversies. It’s certainly something to keep in mind, and no doubt people have made some savvy investment decisions that factored in celebrity influence.
But in the wider scheme of things, are celebrity decisions really one of the biggest factors driving markets? No, absolutely not. It’s not something to base the bulk of your strategy on, and following celebrity endorsements is never an alternative to professional advice and analysis!
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Justin is an active trader with more than 20-years of industry experience. He has worked at big banks and hedge funds including Citigroup, D. E. Shaw and Millennium Capital Management.