Last year, I helped one of my clients secure a celebrity endorsement and thought I could write a little bit about it. I started this post and then stopped mid way through. I decided to revisit it today. You see endorsements all the time. Athletes endorse prominent sports brands, handsome actors endorse insurance companies, and beautiful actresses endorse hair care products. With all these big names spending millions on celebrity endorsements, it’s got to be really effective, right?
Yes, and no.
Endorsements work via the principle of “transference”, where the qualities of one person (the celebrity) are believed to be passed on to another (the consumer) through a common item (the product). It’s a documented psychological phenomenon that’s been studied extensively by scientists and market researchers alike. When faced with two items that are exactly the same, many people will desire or prefer the one that has been touched, handled, or associated with a famous person. In the same vein (and you can observe this for yourself), most people will veer away from anything that’s been touched or linked to a notorious figure.
Sounds good, right? Based on the research, hiring celebrity endorsers should hit a home run all the time. But it doesn’t. Endorsements fail just as often as they succeed. Why don’t endorsements work 100% of the time?
Are They a Fit?
Celebrities come in different shapes and sizes, and with their own personalities and quirks. Brands are no different. Pairing the two up is a lot like matchmaking. If the personalities clash, then the results could be disastrous.
Consider, for example, a scenario where an established and respectable golf brand is trying to cater to the younger, “hipper” demographic by signing on a prominent young celebrity with a “gangsta” image. The celebrity plays golf, to be sure, but his image so contradicts the brand’s personality that loyal customers are actually turned off by the association. Plus, the targeted younger market sees through the ploy and condemns the celebrity for selling out his name for the sake of cash. The golf brand’s effort fails on two fronts, and actually does more harm than good.
When considering a celebrity for your brand, do a thorough review of this person’s personality and reputation within both his industry and the general public. Avoid personalities that don’t fit your brand’s desired image, and make sure the celebrity’s personal views are in line with your company’s values. A celebrity who does social work with children is a perfect fit for a company that takes a stand against child labor, for instance.
Keep Tabs on Their Reputation
Everyone makes poor decisions in their life choices, but the last thing you want to do is tie your brand to one of them, especially if your celebrity endorser does something illegal or unethical. Drug use, fraud, and even controversial public statements can sour many people’s view of the celebrity and taint your brand by association.
When evaluating a brand endorser, consider his or her personal character and values. Is this person likely to put himself in compromising situations in the future, like substance abuse problems? Are they level-headed and mature enough to not act foolishly in public or make offensive comments? Every minute of research and character evaluation now will spare you the headache (and expense) of a celebrity scandal later on.
And if your celebrity does happen to make a mistake and cause a scandal, be quick on the button and respond appropriately to the situation. It helps to come up with contingency plans for various scenarios. Even though you can’t predict everything, it will at least pave the way for some critical thinking as you try to determine the correct action.