30 May

Things to know before brands endorse a celebrity

By Solabomi Okonkwo

There is no doubt about the power of a ‘star’, the question is about how best to harness it for your brand?
The use of a celebrity is not a silver bullet which will deliver the results upon hitting the target. According to Alan Cluer, “Stars are merely actors that people like better than other actors”. A celebrity is not an idea, it is an execution. It is therefore an essential to focus on crafting the part to be played, that is, to deliver the brand’s communications idea. Executing the brand communication idea with a star in the identified role is a powerful way to amplify and accelerate the communication.

For obvious reasons, we leverage celebrity status to bring more (or different) attention to our brand or products with the ultimate goal of increasing sales. We all know the downside of celebrity endorsements and the negative effects an endorser’s personal life and conduct can have on brands.

So, before a brand embarks on an expensive celebrity relationship there are a number of key questions you should ask yourself.

Do we have a strong brand or product proposition?

Ensure that your brand or product proposition is strong before you even consider the large budget for acquiring a celebrity. Julie Deane’s business, The Cambridge Satchel Company, was founded in 2007. Her traditional leather satchels are frequently seen on the arms of A-list stars. That kind of endorsement, and subsequent PR in magazines, is invaluable. However according to Julie, it is all down to the appeal of the product, “The celebrities contacted us… Sophie Ellis Bextor bought bags back when we were still [making them] in the kitchen”. In this case, Julie was lucky that celebrities came to her.

In Nigeria, Mai Atafo is a Nigerian bespoke fashion tailor who gained media acclamation by a pioneering clientele of mostly celebrities like Omowunmi Akinnifesi, Banky W, IK Osakioduwa and a host of others. Now he is approached by top celebrities to wear his design, as a matter of fact, I knew of one who requested that he became his personal designer at the beginning of this year.

Atafo has also built a brand for himself which is strong enough to attract companies like Etisalat. The telecommunication company’s mobile number portability testimonial campaign launched recently featuring Mai and other celebrities, testifying to the quality of the network.

However, it is normally the other way round for some brands, as you usually need to persuade a celebrity to endorse these brands. Of course, if your brand or proposition is poor, then you would need the celebrity to make that poor proposition famous.

Does celebrity endorsement fit with the overall brand strategy?

As for every element of a brand campaign, it is important to understand the core values of your brand. Who are your target audience and what does your brand means to them. The goals of a campaign need to be carefully outlined and understood as well as the budget allocation.

It is very easy to overspend on a celebrity campaign and lose sight of the goals, particularly if you get to meet these celebrities. In reality, celebrities are chosen, most often, depending on people on the brand team or the custodians who wants to meet them.

A very good example is Rihanna & Totes. Umbrella, a song by Rihanna, hit it big at the Grammys, rubbing off on her designs for Totes’ umbrellas, which was equally successful at the retail.

There is a not so good fit when Michael Collins Ajereh, better known as Don Jazzy, a music producer and record executive features on his artistes’ songs and Loya milk from the stable of Promasidor.

My first reaction, as a practitioner is how do consumers connect with Don? Why him? Which criteria was used, can kids or their mothers connect to him, what was the brand strategy; was it achieved? Is there any plan to leverage the asset via experiential activations to create a connection with the consumers?

Consumers know when the relationship is forced and instead of having a positive effect, the brand could be viewed negatively. In the advertising materials developed for the ATL campaign, they didn’t look or feel convincing for both the commercial and outdoor visuals.

When Don Jazzy was unveiled by MTN (music platform), it seemed a better fit. But whether that relationship has derived value or been fully utilized by the brand will be critically examined.

Although celebrities can increase sales and help build a brand, the quality of the product is what will keep consumers coming back.

If the product does not have mass appeal, or is not a quality product, all the celebrity endorsements would not make it a bestseller. While there might be a boost in sales, ultimately the product itself must stand the test and entice consumers.

Is the celebrity I have chosen the right celebrity?

The celebrity’s brand needs to fit and add to your brand’s attributes so it is definitely worth investing in some research to find this out. A celebrity also needs to be genuinely interested in your brand, like Patrick Dempsey’s Unscripted men’s perfume for Avon. You cannot put words in their mouth and they always need to sound natural when they talk about your product.

I would also advise that you give them the opportunity to input into any campaign creative so that they fully buy into it and are as natural as possible. A celebrity must share similar core values of the brand they’re endorsing Celebrity power is subjective, but for my client’s money, power is ultimately measured by increased sales and an authentic representation of their brand.

When it comes to a celebrity selling a brand, few do it better than Kate Middleton. She has become the iconic British lady of beauty and fashion. Photographed wearing Marks & Spencer Shoes, the styles she was wearing were sold out in hours and have become the store’s best-selling shoe style. Dresses that the Princess has worn have sold out within hours, and she is considered the reason J Brand Jeans sales have skyrocketed. Wearing a wedding dress designed by Alexander McQueen and often seen wearing other designs from the label, McQueen’s sales have increased by over 27%.

While many celebrities such as Kate Middleton can be seen as good influences and raise sales, many celebrities do not. It would be wise for advertisers to consider what celebrities they hire or solicit to endorse their products thoroughly.

In 2012, Ronaldinho was dropped from his Coca-Cola contract after appearing with Pepsi cans during a press conference but did not seem to be the only reason as other issues had come up before then

How exclusive is the celebrity to my brand?

Often a celebrity may be involved in endorsing a number of brands like in the case of Rihanna during the start of her career and Funke Akindele with Globacom, Lagos State Government, Jobberman, Omo, Vita Foam and most recently, online business networking platform, Qlichy.com.

Therefore does this dilute your brand message, will your brand message be lost? Any deal should be beneficial not just from a financial stand point. A celebrity will give your brand more attention if they also have something to gain for their brand. A good example is Liz Hurley recently featured in the UK’s popular Sun Newspaper in support of the Breast Cancer Foundation. Of course trust is vital in these relationships.

Is it working?

As with any marketing campaign it is important to see if it is working. Is there positive sentiment on line? What are the conversations about? Is there increased awareness and engagement with my brand? Are people linking that celebrity to my brand? Ultimately are there increased sales of my brand? If the answers to any of these questions are no then it is time for a major rethink. Should I end the relationship? If the relationship is no longer beneficial and particularly if the celebrity no longer fits your brand, it is better to end the relationship sooner rather than later even if this means some initial bad publicity. A good example of this is ‘Nike’s dropping of Tiger Woods.

Having a celebrity use your product or agree to endorse it may seem like advertising ‘manna’ from heaven. However, celebrities are still human and they make mistakes. The difference is that our mistakes are usually only seen by a few. A celebrity’s mistakes are the stuff of worldwide media and social media circles. One faux pas by a celebrity and it can be instantly reported and viewed around the globe.

Although celebrities can increase sales and help build a brand, the quality of the product is what will keep consumers coming back or stay on a network in the case of telecommunications. If the product doesn’t have mass appeal, or isn’t a quality product, all the celebrity endorsements won’t make it a bestseller. While there might be a boost in sales, ultimately the product itself must stand the test and entice consumers.

By following the 5 points above you will be able to decide if this is the right strategy for your brand.

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