Ed Sheeran and a ketchup bottle

Ed Sheeran and the Two-step Flow Theory


Why do brands continue to collaborate with musicians and other celebrities to promote their products and services? Perhaps the key concepts of the two-step flow theory of communication can help explain the success of these sorts of campaigns.

Ketchup and Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran first topped the UK music charts in 2011 and he went on to achieve global success with the release of his third album “÷”, the biggest selling record worldwide in 2017. He has also won four Grammy Awards and five Brit Awards. This popularity with the audience and critical recognition from the music industry makes him one of the best-known artists in the media.

His brand is clearly defined and instantly relatable to his fan base – casual t-shirts, tattoos and sense of humour.

Heinz is a major food-processing company whose Ketchup brand dominates the market. Of course, they want to secure their impressive revenue by appealing to another generation of consumers. Ed Sheeran’s connection and appeal to a younger demographic makes him the perfect partner to help promote the product. Interestingly, Ed Sheeran already had a tattoo of the ketchup bottle on his arm because of his enduring love for the condiment. The affiliation was inevitable.

It is also worth noting the use of the social media platform, Instagram, in this examination practice.


Analyse the following Instagram post in terms of the two-step flow model of communication.

Ed Sheeran social media post

Points to Consider

Although Paul Lazarsfeld’s two-step flow theory of communication was developed from his research into the political campaigns of the 1940s, the approach to understanding the limitations of the mass media’s ability to directly impact the mainstream audience remains relevant no matter what value or ideology is being promoted. In this example, Heinz want to increase awareness of their Tomato Ketchup brand. It may not be a manifesto of job creation and low taxation, but there is the same desire to influence the behaviour of the general public.

The two-step flow theory suggests companies can still use the broadcast media to deliver their message to the audience. This can be achieving by targeting opinion leaders who will persuade opinion followers to purchase the product.

Celebrity endorsement is a well-known advertising tactic. However, we could also analyse the use of Ed Sheeran in terms of the two-step flow theory. Put simply, is he the opinion leader and are his fan base the opinion followers?

Media Language

Trust is an important characteristic of opinion leaders. Explain how the non-verbal codes communicate the musician’s genuine love for the product. Is the image strange or shocking enough to grab the audience’s attention?

You should explore the narrative being created in the image posted to Instagram. How does it help convey the preferred reading?

From your own framework of knowledge, suggest why Heinz wanted Ed Sheeran to be the face of their new campaign.

Further Study

It might be interesting to explore the quality of audience engagement with Instagram, especially the mode of consumption. For instance, @teddysphotos is Ed Sheeran’s official Instagram account with over 31 million (opinion) followers, but does everyone of his followers actually stop to look at his posts?

You could also consider to what extent audience motivation can explain the success of the campaign. Is our desire for social belonging (as defined by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) more important in the flow of communication than our willingness to simply follow an opinion leader?

Further Reading

Thanks for reading!