The Limits of Celebrity Endorsement in Volunteer Engagement

The Limits of Celebrity Endorsement in Volunteer Engagement

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Celebrity promotions of volunteering and service are all the rage (thanks, Ashton). So why isn't it working?
Thursday, December 17, 2009 - 11:00am

These days, when a trend is at its fever pitch, it’s trendy to say it "jumped the shark." That’s from the 1977 Happy Days episode where Fonzie water skis over a giant great white. Since then, the scene has become synonymous with absurd developments that signal the beginning of the end. The show may have limped along for years more, but creatively speaking it was all downhill from there.

Ironically, the Happy Days show that aired the following week has become equally influential – at least to those who care about social change. That was the one where The Fonz and Co. sign up for library cards in order to meet more girls. When the caper works like a charm, Fonzie exclaims: "Libraries are cool!"

To this day, Henry Winkler – the actor who played Fonzie – speaks proudly about the impact of his words on viewers. As he told an audience in 2002, when the show aired, "Library cards issued after that one liner went up 500 percent in the U.S. Who knew!"

Over time, Fonzie-at-the-library became a trope for marketers and fundraisers about the potential of celebrity campaigns to influence consumers to act in the public interest.

There was just one problem: There was no Fonzie Effect – at least not on the scale that everyone assumes. Not only has the American Library Association not been able to find any references to a surge in library cards, but there wasn’t even a national system in place to measure card registrations at the time.

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