WRITER: Dr Robert van der Veen
ILLUSTRATOR: Paolo Lim
Matching a celebrity with a brand is a tricky business-get it right and sales can skyrocket. But get it wrong, and your brand might fizzle and fade away.
Celebrities can be powerful brand ambassadors. They’re used by companies around the world to endorse everything from pet food to luxury brands. As celebrities have the resources, power and expertise to choose the best of the best, they can be great ambassadors for a brand. They're especially useful for new products, or products trying to build credibility via a famous spokesperson who can testify their benefits. But, before you sign a ‘pre-nup’ it’s important to check the celebrity’s background and personality. Skimp on this process, and you can end up with a celebrity-brand mismatch, and a campaign that can quickly turn sour.
In an ideal world, designers work with a blank canvas for showcasing brands. But which celebrity comes without baggage?
Careful matching of celebrity beliefs and brand values is vital for an endorsement to be perceived as authentic. It’s extremely important to match the ‘right’ person with the ‘right’ brand values. A good example is that of Australian model Jennifer Hawkins, a successful brand ambassador for Redwin skin products, Mount Franklin water, and Bioglan vitamins, all of which match her healthy lifestyle. Such associations are perceived as genuine because the celebrity is endorsing a brand that they believe in, or for which they have a connection. This sounds easy, but poorly matched or insincere endorsements are common, and people can easily spot a phony.
Companies should be on the lookout for celebrities who can create synergy or relevance for their brand. A celebrity chef like Jamie Oliver can effectively endorse kitchen equipment, supermarket brands or food ingredients because of the clear links and associations. But sometimes less obvious associations, related to the celebrity’s lifestyle, passion, or philosophy, can also be successful. For example, well-known actor, and film and television producer, Mark Wahlberg is founder of the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation which has raised millions of dollars to improve the quality of life for children and young adults. Similarly, he supports the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens which inspires and enables teens to achieve more. These associations work because they connect with Wahlberg’s own youth experiences.
Be careful of dilution
Celebrities understand that they have a significant impact on brands, so rather than lending their names to a third-party brand, many are now cashing in on their personal endorsement power and launching their own lines of perfume, clothes and jewellery.
So, if you are considering a celebrity for your product or service, be mindful that they do not connect with too many other brands (their own or otherwise), as multiple messages may dilute the impact of the endorsement and confuse the target audience.
Avoid the ‘vampire effect’
It’s important that an endorsement focuses on what you are selling—people need to remember the brand not the celebrity. The celebrity is just there to break through the clutter. Focus can easily shift to the celebrity when a spokesperson is poorly matched to your brand values—a celebrity representing a vegetarian group will be less effective as an endorser for a fast food restaurant. Ambassadorships should be perceived as an extension of the celebrity’s beliefs and persona. If the match is not there, it’s not going to work.
Celebrity endorsements often have the best impact on subjective assessments for brands that create a statement for fashion, image or style. Both celebrities and brands are concerned about how the association will reflect upon them. Are we doing the right thing and can we afford it? Not just in monetary terms but also in terms of risk.
Tiger Woods was once named by Forbes magazine as the most effective celebrity endorser in the world. Well on his way to earning a billion dollars in endorsements, a sex scandal cost him his clean-cut image and sliced millions off his brand endorsements. Of course, as with any relationship, an endorsement deal works both ways—a sponsor can also tarnish the spokesperson if, for example, the company’s reputation is damaged.
It’s no secret that contracting famous international celebrities requires deep pockets. Indeed, the money earned from endorsements can often exceed a celebrity’s standard salary. Now, there is a growing trend among start-up businesses to offer a celebrity an equity stake in the company rather than cash. This has its pros and cons. Whatever your choice of compensation, make sure you prepare a contingency plan in case things go amiss. The celebrity’s life off-field, -camera or -stage is often more interesting and can be shared instantly online. If there’s a problem, there’s little time for damage control.
Nevertheless, there are ways of benefiting from high profile figures without the significant cost. For example, Jackie Chan is the official ambassador for Hong Kong, which he does for free because he was born there and simply loves the city. Similarly, Oscar-winning actress, Angelina Jolie, recently announced that she would be establishing a medical centre to treat AIDS and tuberculosis in Ethiopia, the country where her adopted daughter, Zahara, was born. Such support is a dream come true for medical, humanitarian and environmental charities today, as celebrity support, or good-will can develop into well-funded awareness campaigns and secure an abundance of research funding.
Prudence is a Virtue
In an ideal world, designers work with a ‘blank canvas’ for showcasing brands. But which celebrity comes without baggage? Sure, there are those that have an untarnished reputation, play fair or would make the ideal son or daughter-in-law. But so often fame and fortune changes people. So, before you sign a contract, just make sure that there are no snakes in the baggage compartment.
Despite the notoriously short shelf life for international fame, getting in early has its benefits, as a well-established relationship will grow stronger and become more credible over time. Be sure to carefully select your celebrity brand ambassador and check that their image, lifestyle and values are consistent with the attributes you desire for your brand. Active engagement into the depth of that space will help develop a convincing bond between the celebrity and the brand.
There are certainly opportunities out there for brands to tell a story using a celebrity endorser, but it’s essential that you do your homework first.
Dr Robert van der Veen is a Research Fellow in the Australian Centre for Asian Business at UniSA. His research interests include consumer loyalty and satisfaction, tourism management, and celebrity endorsement.
When it's a good fit for your business
OPRAH WINFREY - US$2.9B net worth
Arguably one of the world’s most influential people, Winfrey was named by Forbes as the Most powerful celebrity and the Highest-earning celebrity of 2013. The success of Winfrey’s opinions and public endorsements has been dubbed ‘The Oprah Effect’, and has made her one of the most sought-after celebrities for innumerable products and services around the world.
MICHAEL JORDAN - US$650M net worth
Widely considered the best basketball player of all time, Jordan’s game made him one of the best marketed athletes of his generation. His partnership with Nike is undeniably his most lucrative venture, with the Air Jordan sneaker contributing over US$1 billion to Nike’s annual sales. He now owns a division of Nike, The Jordan Brand, which generates US$1.75 billion globally.
BEYONCÉ - US$300M net worth
One of the world’s best-selling music artists and performers, Beyoncé trails Oprah at #4 as Forbes' Most powerful celebrity of 2013. Her success includes a multi-million dollar deal with soft drink giant, Pepsi, who offered her US$50 million in 2012 to endorse their brand commercially. Pepsi in turn agreed to sponsor her creative projects including albums and world tours.
JACKIE CHAN - US$130M net worth
Hong Kong actor and entrepreneur, Jackie Chan is most known for his acrobatic fighting skills and stunt routines in action comedies. Topping Forbes' China list in 2010 as the #1 Top Celebrity, Chan has become a cultural icon of Hong Kong appearing in numerous public service announcements, tourism promotions and attraction openings, such as Hong Kong Disneyland.
NICOLE KIDMAN - US$130M net worth
Synonymous with style and elegance, Australian actress and Academy Award winner, Nicole Kidman, is one of the highest-paid performers in the world.In 2004, her ethereal beauty was captured by prestige perfume brand, Chanel, who made her the face of Chanel No. 5, and reportedly paid her over US$3.71 million for the 3-minute advert—a record for the most money paid per minute.
When it's best to part company...
TIGER WOODS - US$500M net worth
American sportsman, Tiger Woods, has only recently reclaimed his title as Forbes' Highest paid athlete for 2013, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing for the top golfer. In 2009, Woods’ highly publicised infidelity scandal not only hurt his game, but lost support from major endorsers such as Tag Heuer, General Motors, Gillette, and Gatorade, reporting a loss of US$23 million.
BRITNEY SPEARS - US$220M net worth
In the late 1990s, pop sensation, Britney Spears, was a force to be reckoned with. By 18 she had sold over 100 million albums globally, making her one of the best-selling music artists of all time. In 2001, she secured a US$8 million deal with Pepsi, only to be sacked when caught sipping on rival Coke. She is now allegedly an investor in Coke and has cut all former ties to Pepsi.
LANCE ARMSTRONG - US$125M net worth
Professional cyclist, Lance Armstrong, was once one of the highest paid athletes in the world, earning over US$20 million a year.But in 2010, years of doping suspicions were confirmed, and he was charged as a drug cheat. Stripped of his 7 Tour de France titles, he was dropped by every major sponsor, costing him not only his reputation, but more than US$75 million in endorsements.
KATE MOSS - US$70M net worth
British supermodel, Kate Moss, has consistently been one of the highest paid models, adorning magazines covers and catwalks the world over. The face of many elite brands, Moss was fast-dumped by H&M, Chanel and Burberry after tabloids ran photos of her snorting cocaine. Despite this set-back Moss has not suffered any long-term commercial damage; she is still a supermodel.
O.J. SIMPSON - US$250K net worth
Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985, O.J. Simpson was a gridiron great, becoming the first to ‘rush’ more than 2000 yards in a season. Simpson’s charisma and on-field talent landed him a 17-year deal with Hertz rental cars. But when domestic abuse reports surfaced in 1992, Simpson was quickly dropped by the brand. He is now serving time for multiple felonies.
Net worth source: celebritynetworth.com
> For more information about celebrity endorsement, visit UniSA's Australian Centre for Asian Business