During a recent client meeting we were discussing the merits of celebrity endorsement, opinions were strongly divided in the room. It was an interesting exercise as the views were more polarised than when discussing many other options available to us. Given recent notable activity has included Investec securing Frankie Dettori and Denise Lewis to support its Derby sponsorship we believe it was worth analysing this divisive issue a little further.
Supporters of the use of celebrity will say that it is an effective way to align the brand behind a clearly identifiable position in order connect with the consumer. It will extend the reach and engagement of the campaign through a number of channels, not just the paid media space.
Those opposed argue that it is a lazy and uncreative way to engage with your audience. The brand, and its communication platform, should be able to capture the imagination and interact with the consumer in a way that doesn’t need to commit, often, significant fees associated with securing an endorsement.
Our opinion is that this is not a cut and dry issue. Selecting the right person, negotiating the correct rights and communicating through the appropriate channels is paramount to the success of the campaign. Too often brands simply put the product in the celebrity’s hands for advertising, install a small caption at the end of PR article or ensure they re-tweet brand posts a specified number of times a month. We would agree that this is lazy and uncreative, it lacks integrity and consumers see the shallow nature of the relationship.
In order to create a meaningful partnership the brand and celebrity must have integrity in the relationship. There must be a genuine connection so that they re-tweet the brand’s post, for example, not because they are contractually obliged to do so but because they want to. It may be a utopian view to achieve this level of engagement between the two parties, but it is the brand’s responsibility to drive the connection and therefore the credibility. For example, Gary Lineker’s relationship with Walkers Crisps started in 1995 and has been a huge success spanning 20 years. This is because there is longevity and shared provenance, as a result the relationship appears very natural and, ultimately, succeeds.
On the flip side, Rory McIlroy supposedly has the right not to use a Nike putter if he doesn’t like the feel of it, despite his (estimated) $100m contract. If he were to exercise this right, any perception of the best player in the world using the best clubs is thoroughly undermined because, as most golfers acknowledge, there isn’t a massive difference in drivers but there are with putters. Therefore the proposition that Nike make the highest quality golf clubs would be completely blown, and this exorbitant rights fee would look ridiculous.
A brand must also analyse their attitude towards risk. By partnering with a celebrity there is the possibility of brand damage (through association) as a moment of scandal can never be ruled out. An Ipsos Mori poll from 2011 found that 15% of consumers reported that they would stop buying a product if a celebrity endorsing it was engaged in ’personal misbehaviour’. However interestingly, when Tiger Woods’ multiple infidelity indiscretions were revealed, in all but one market Nike withdrew their advertising of him. In China however they doubled their marketing spend around the campaign due to the fact that numerous mistresses is perceived as highly aspirational and the sign of success. Whilst we’re not going to judge the ethics of such a move it proves that scandal isn’t a cut and dry issue and brands must enter into such a relationship fully understanding what their strategy would be if it went wrong.
Tiger Woods or Lance Armstrong scandals are always a risk but are relatively rare, however brands need to plan for more subtle, but still damaging, issues. For example, Beyonce’s endorsement of Pepsi was heavily criticised as she had backed Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move Fitness’ campaign shortly before announcing her brand ambassadorial role. It is very difficult to protect the brand from the potential fall-out of such a story however it should focus the attention of marketers to ensure that the correct level of due diligence is completed prior to finalising any such agreement.
There are a great many examples of success and failure in the use of celebrity endorsement which could be used to drive this argument one way or another. However we believe that a strategy should be based on analysing the campaign’s ability to hit the objectives versus an alternative creative direction rather than deciding to secure a celebrity partner and then searching for the individual. If the right person (and when we say ‘right’ it has to be bulls eye) is available at the right price it should be considered alongside the other campaign options and evaluated accordingly. If the celebrity endorsement can be challenged with ‘who else is available who might fit’ then more often than not this will be the wrong route.