I am completely baffled by the
trend for headphone manufacturers to have celebrities endorse their products.
First, I am baffled by some of the so-called 'celebrities' chosen. For
example, while Tim Lincecum may be a household name in the United States, I am
not sure that anyone in Australia has any idea who he is. But even if I did
know who he was, why would I think that a baseball pitcher has any idea of
what headphones should sound like?
And what's with the propensity for headphone manufacturers
to pay DJs and rappers to endorse their products? I enjoy rap as much as the
next person (which is, to say, not much) but I fail to see what it has to do
with music. As for DJs, I admire their musical sensibilities, but in order to
become famous, DJs have spent (literally) thousands of hours in nightclubs
honing their skills, during which time they were exposed almost continuously
to noise levels that have been proven to destroy anyone's hearing. And,
according to one world-famous DJ of my acquaintance, few — if any —
professional DJs wear earplugs when working, so their hearing is probably
completely shot anyway.
So why should I imagine that just because a DJ has 'endorsed'
a pair of headphones that they will actually sound any good? In fact quite the
opposite may be the case. When 21 specially-trained listeners and 71 untrained
college students were asked to evaluate one of the most commercially
successful headphones, endorsed by a world-famous DJ, against a reference pair
of studio headphones, every one of them ranked the endorsed headphones second,
with most noting their sound variously as being 'boomy', 'muffled', or 'coloured'.
To rub salt into the wound, the DJ-endorsed headphones were considerably more
expensive than the reference pair of headphones.
So why do manufacturers persist in selling them? For the
money, of course! A study published in the Journal
of Advertising found that celebrity endorsements deliver a 4 per
cent growth in revenue. As a manufacturer, what you're hoping for is that fans
of the celebrity you pay to endorse your product will buy it just because he
or she has endorsed it. Justin Bieber has 34.5 million followers on Twitter,
while even a brand as famous as Starbucks can muster only 3.4 million. So if
Starbucks could get a Justin Bieber endorsement, the pay-off would be that
even if only a small percentage of Bieber's fanbase started drinking at
Starbucks, coffee sales could easily leap by more than 100 percent. That's why
Dr Dre builds special 'Justin Bieber' and 'Lady Gaga' editions of his
headphones, despite being a celebrity in his own right. (That is, so that
people who don't like him will buy his Bieber-branded or Gaga-branded designs,
so he'll make more money.)
So why do consumers persist in buying them? I admit that one
has me stumped too. Ask me whether I'd rather buy a pair of headphones from a
company that's been manufacturing them for decades, and during that time has
poured millions of dollars into research and technology — companies such as
AKG, Sennheiser, and Beyer Dynamic spring to mind — or from some start-up
company I've never heard of that has no R&D department, doesn't own its
own factory, but has an endorsement from some celebrity, and I'm pretty sure
you already know where I'd spend my money. And frankly, that's where I'd
suggest you spend yours, too...