Published in Jan-Feb 2015
According to Shimp 2000, a study on the transference of brand attitudes, 25% of American TV commercials use celebrity endorsements.
For marketers the world over, this is a tried and tested formula. Pick an iconic figure and associate him, or her, with your brand and their followers will follow your brand too. As Pepsi claims, ‘Pepsi does not make stars, Pepsi takes stars,’ thereby driving home the fact that the brand is endorsed by someone who is already known instead of someone new.
Marketers who favour celebrity endorsements say that such endorsements deliver better results. A possible explanation for the effectiveness of celebrity endorsers is the fact that consumers tend to believe that major stars are motivated by genuine affection for the product rather than by the endorsement fees, which in today’s world is hardly true.
In today’s world, Beyoncé endorses Pepsi and Fitness America at the same time. Mary Kate Olsen endorses a milk brand and weeks later she is diagnosed with an eating disorder. Kim Kardashian endorses a weight loss pill and when it is banned by the Australian authorities, she exempts herself from any blame by saying that she only endorsed the product, she did not manufacture it. Or worse yet, O.J. Simpson is Hertz’s brand ambassador and the whole of America sees him chased by cops in his car.
Despite these obvious setbacks, celebrity endorsement never went out of business; in fact they are more popular now than ever before. Celebrities are endorsing brands on Instagram and Twitter and are being paid for those photos and tweets. Endorsements are running amok, with marketers often tussling over celebrities for a chance to use their name. They are exploring new approaches to maximise a celebrity’s appeal, some of which work, others fail and some remain unproven. Regardless of approach, the endorsement has to be credible and authentic.
The key point is that the celebrity endorsing a brand should have an inherent connection with the brand he or she is endorsing. It would not make sense to appoint Shahid Afridi a brand ambassador for life insurance policy, right? Let’s dig into this part with a few classic scenarios you may face and some suggestions on how to react in each.
The Ronaldo trap
Christiano Ronaldo has over $25 million worth of annual brand endorsements. Brands want to be associated with everything to do with him, from his powerful right foot to the occasional frosted tips of his hair. To be fair, he has the credentials and the achievements to deserve this kind of endorsement. The problem is, what is he endorsing? He endorses Clear Shampoo, Emirates Airline, Nike, Samsung, Tag Heuer, none of which make a match. Here is the catch… Ronaldo is the official brand ambassador of KFC and Toyota Yaris. Jorge Mendes is a super agent who has a history of bringing more and more money to the doors of the superstars. In this quest, Mendes should not forget what a player like Ronaldo stands for. He stands for reliability on the pitch and his followers expect the same from him off the pitch. A player like Ronaldo who probably has zero percent body fat, would not be eating buckets of fried chicken as shown in KFC ads. Yes, he does have a fleet of cars, including Bentley, Bugatti, Ferrari, Maserati and Porsche yet one fine day he is shown in TV ads across the world driving a Toyota Yaris. How credible is that?
How to recover: Find celebrities that reflect your brand’s personality and who can inherently be linked with it. If you must take a big name, launch a special line extension or a limited edition pack that fits the personality associated with the celebrity.
The Arjun Kapoor dilemma
‘I am Arjun Kapoor… I Noir… Do You?’ Smartphone users in Pakistan have seen this campaign where Kapoor flaunts a $100 phone, nonchalantly asking the audience if they use the same phone he does. A few days later, Kapoor is seen launching Asus ZenFone in India which is priced at $200 and is openly seen talking to the media about how Asus is a 24x7 kind of a phone. At another event, Vertu, the luxury smartphone manufacturer, launches a new phone, Aster, priced in excess of $6,000. Guess who was the guest of honour? Kapoor. And last but not the least, a simple Google search of Kapoor’s phone will show quite a few photos of the celebrity talking on his iPhone. Let me ask the same question. How credible is Kapoor’s endorsement for smartphones?
How to recover: Hire better lawyers. Start reading the contracts you sign with the celebrities. Endorsement and modelling contracts usually have a category exclusivity clause for a specified time. If that part is covered, sue the celebrity and claim not only the money you paid him or her but also the damage done to your brand’s credibility.
The Tiger Woods syndrome
If your brand can somehow survive the Ronaldo Trap and the Kapoor Dilemma, it is unlikely to recover from the Tiger Woods Syndrome. If the celebrities whose image your brand is trying to cash in on suddenly falls from grace, they will take your brand with them. If your brand is Nike, and is strong enough to survive with other more marketable celebrities and offerings, you can find ways around this syndrome, although it will still hurt your equity. For smaller brands, this can be a fatal situation. Muhammad Aamir, almost immediately after his first campaign ‘Badal do zamana’ for Pepsi, ended up in prison for match fixing. Nike suffered another blow like the one with Tiger Woods when Lance Armstrong was stripped off his medals.
How to recover: You need an Air Jordan to overcome a Tiger Woods. You will also need strong PR, a clear stance on the subject and back up campaigns.
The Roger Federer zone
Roger Federer is third on Forbes’ list of sports endorsers. His tennis ranking goes up and down but his sellability does not. Federer has had several long term endorsement deals bringing in over $32 million into his bank account, including from Credit Suisse, Nike and Rolex. He also has been with Gillette since 2006. So what makes Federer different from Kapoor and Ronaldo, apart from being more talented? To start with, he is not endorsing Rolex, Tag Heuer and Tissot at the same time. On the other hand, he is most likely to wear a Rolex in real life, sport Nike on the pitch, shave with Gillette every day and invest with Credit Suisse.
How to capitalise: Check your pockets. You better have deep ones.
We can make theoretical models for evaluating which celebrity will work for our brands with factors such as the physical attractiveness of the celebrity; consumer attitudes toward the celebrity; perceived product knowledge of the celebrity and corresponding inferences about the endorser.
However, the question which will remain unanswered is that in an age when brands are increasingly defined by a series of experiences, what is the consumer actually buying with a celebrity endorsement? Is it the product, a lifestyle or just the individual celebrity?
Sami Qahar is a Dubai-based Pakistani looking for excuses to write.
Aurora gives him a few. firstname.lastname@example.org