Testimonials: The tried and true non-celebrity endorsement

Leigh LindseyBlog

Who would you trust to give you advice about your family-friendly vacation, a great new bourbon or a doctor to replace your knee?

If you’re like most Americans, you are a bit more likely to trust the recommendations of people you know than those of strangers on the internet. 

But, perhaps surprisingly, you are exceedingly more likely to trust strangers on the internet than you are celebrities on TV, athletes on the ballfield or influencers on your social media channels.

In fact, if you are a millennial, you are inclined to actively distrust celebrity or influencer endorsements of products or services if you sense them to be paid. Not only that, but you’re also inclined to distrust the celebrity or influencer making the endorsement.

The financial incentive implied by the endorsement conveys not only a lack of authenticity, but also an ironic converse; if the product were truly worth the endorsement, it wouldn’t need it. Rather than being paid to rep the brand, the endorser (like Dr. Dre, Rihanna or George Clooney) would be an owner of the brand.

“Consumers today buy from creators, not endorsers, and they value direct engagement, transparency, and authenticity.”

Jay Kapoor, host of The Game Plan podcast, in a November 2020 Forbes piece on influencer marketing

So it makes sense that most of us trust those with:
a) familiarity to us and/or the product they’re referring and
b) no discernable profit from their referral.

Short of direct referrals from friends and family (which we support as well), we have found unpaid testimonials from real people to be the most effective drivers of conversions in marketing campaigns for clients in industries like health care, education, real estate and senior living.


Below are a few examples of successful campaigns and why they worked.

Senior living “celebrity” lives in the community

Community cover girl is face of campaign

With COVID-19 protocols limiting our ability to shoot fresh photography inside our client’s 32 independent living communities across the U.S., our team needed to get creative in order to avoid stock images and exterior shots in our social advertising campaigns. 

We worked with our client’s regional directors of Sales and Marketing on a testimonial-driven campaign that led with quote graphics from real residents and family members in the communities and culminated with locally shot photography of “cover gals and guys” who felt great about the communities and wanted to share that feeling in photos. We supplied detailed shot instructions that the crews inside the communities could execute without professional photography resources. We then turned the photos – many shot on iPhones – into Facebook ad creative. 


Featured here is fan favorite, KK, who represents the Solstice communities in the Southeastern part of the country. 

The Bone and Joint Institute of Tennessee

In early 2017, Williamson Medical Center announced a partnership with 13 local orthopaedic specialists to build the Bone and Joint Institute of Tennessee. The Institute launched its new practice in a crowded health care market, and the team predicted there would be brand confusion for the physicians’ current patients and significant competition for orthopaedic services in the area. MP&F developed a campaign to establish the Institute as the destination for orthopaedic care and increase the number of calls and appointments for the new facility.

As our team researched the Institute, we were pleased to see that the specialists had an overwhelming number of positive reviews published online, and their patients were highly engaged on social media. Knowing this, we developed the “Positive Experience, Positive Results” campaign to tell the stories of real patients whose lives were changed after their procedures and appointments at the Institute. Our team then shared these stories through a robust integrated marketing campaign involving organic and paid social media, digital display ads, print ads, and billboards. After one full year of prep and execution, the Institute saw an increase in calls, scheduled appointments and landing page views. 

Job Corps

Student and graduate success stories are the foundation of all marketing and advertising for Job Corps, a U.S. Department of Labor program that offers free career training and education for eligible 16- through 24-year-olds at 120-plus campuses across the country. 

  • How do you help a low-income young person feel comfortable moving away from their friends and family to a Job Corps campus? 
  • How do you motivate someone who’s down on their luck to pick themselves up and go after their career goals? 
  • How do you communicate with employers about how Job Corps graduates can help their businesses? 

The answer to all of these questions is success stories. 

Years of research with prospective students has shown that success stories are the No. 1 way to tell Job Corps’ story. Low-income young people don’t want to learn about Job Corps from a celebrity or influencer who has never experienced the same types of challenges they have. They want to hear from and see actual Job Corps students and graduates. They can relate to these authentic stories and trust the messages shared in them. This is why we work day in and day out to identify great Job Corps success stories and to share them far and wide. 

WGU Tennessee 

Nonprofit online university WGU Tennessee launched in the Volunteer State in 2013 with a specific mission – to help working Tennesseans achieve their education goals and further their careers. Since then, WGU Tennessee has awarded more than 6,000 degrees and grown to more than 4,000 students. 

Telling the stories of Tennesseans whose lives have been changed through WGU Tennessee has been an important strategy since day one of our work with the university. Our team has interviewed more than 200 students and graduates, using their stories to drive content for media pitches, blogs, employer outreach and social media. Without fail, this content always performs better than efforts that don’t highlight students. 

A Life Transformed – Celebrating WGU Tennessee’s 6,000th Graduate

The new classroom: Second-chance college students turn to WGU Tennessee
Fast Facts
  • 78% of millennials had a negative or indifferent view of celebrity endorsements.
  • 40% said that celebrities’ and influencers’ credibility was eroded if they engaged in paid endorsements.
  • The biggest influence on millennial consumers was repeated use of a single product rather than a one-time campaign with a paid endorsement.
    Source: 2017 Roth Capital Partners analysis

  • Who are consumers likely to trust recommendations from?
    • 83% friends and family
    • 54% professional expert
    • 52% co-workers
    • 34% online reviews
    • 4% celebrity (this has declined)
    • 6% social influencers and athletes
  • Source: 2018 Expert Voice survey

Are you interested in learning more about how to use success stories and testimonials in your communications efforts? We’re happy to help! Get in touch here