HAVE YOU ever wondered how infuriating it must be for a 14-year-old school boy using costly skincare products just because they are advertised by his favourite Canto-pop diva, Sammi Cheng Sau-man. Indeed, this loyal admirer is just one of many whose consumer behaviour is strongly affected by celebrity endorsements, according to recent research by a group of form three students. The 10-member team from Kwun Tong Maryknoll College, who won the junior section championship and the best topic award of this year's Consumer Culture Study Award, investigated whether pop idols held any sway over youth buying habits. Organised by the Consumer Council and Education and Manpower Bureau, the competition is in its fourth year and attracted 332 school teams with almost 2,300 participants. It seeks to examine consumer culture and behaviour, thus allowing the younger generation to better understand consumer rights and duties. This year's entries included research topics ranging from Internet cafes, mobile phones and pirated CDs to funerals. 'Though many people say celebrities have no influence on their [buying perception], their actions reveal otherwise,' said Fong Tsang-ming, who was on the Kwun Tong Maryknoll team. 'Some of them are obsessed with star-related items.' Having interviewed about 100 people aged 13 to 30, the team found that secondary students - a group with relatively low purchasing power - are more vulnerable to advertisements that use celebrities as spokespersons. 'For slimming and healthcare products, people prefer those with stars as spokespersons,' teammate Kenny Wong Tat-on said. 'They may relate to the celebrities' appearance with the outcome of using those products,' Maryknoll member Hichens Chow Hung-ching added. 'But there are exceptions. When it comes to mobile phones, people tend to focus on the function of the item - outweighing the 'star' factor.' The team from St Paul's Co-educational College, ranked top in the senior section and winner of the best production award, studied the culture of 'coupons'. After examining piles of coupons, team member Melody Chan Yuk-fung discovered a variety of gimmicks. One was a bank which issued a coupon that could be redeemed for a free gold pendant for those who bought a mortgage. 'A coupon is not only an advertisement, it is also a way to offer consumers some privileges,' she said. 'I'm no longer hesitant in using coupons because many people already do so.' However, teammate Mazing Lee Ming-sum, said consumers should be more cautious when using such coupons, as many did not fully state the terms and conditions. Wong Koon-shing, head of the Consumer Education Division of the Consumer Council and organiser of the competition, said this year's participants developed more in-depth studies and investigated issues from a 'public policy level' perspective. 'Instead of solely studying the consumer behaviour of a certain group of people, many of them came up with ideas related to the social environment and government policies, such as [the re-establishment of] the Sheung Wan flea market,' he said.