UPDATE: Iceland has ditched its strategy of hiring celebrity 'brand ambassadors' to walk around the shops handling boxes of fish, resorting instead to 'real mums', who obviously will never do anything to hurt the brand. Bad luck Peter Andre.
You’ve got a millennial problem. Sales are stagnant, and your relentlessly chirpy posts on ‘social media’ are falling on deaf ears. It may be tempting to throw a celebrity at the problem. That’s guaranteed to go viral, right? Just park Paris Hilton in front of a camera with your cordless carpet shampooer and watch the orders roll in...
It’s easy to mock the culture of celebrity endorsement (few do it as well as The Simpsons, below), but of course it can actually be very effective. There’s a reason up to 15% of adverts in the US feature a celebrity.
The most obvious benefit is perhaps for small businesses wanting a profile boost. A couple of years ago, Nottingham-based hot-tub maker Danz Spas cut a deal with singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor. She got a discount, the firm got a video endorsement and publicity in the media it couldn’t possibly have generated otherwise.
‘We’re effectively a business nobody has ever heard of, and we're trying to convince people to spend £5,000 without ever seeing us,’ he told the BBC at the time. ‘We thought that having Sophie would help with some of the credibility issues.’
The big issue for small businesses is clearly cost – can they afford to pay the often steep A-lister fees? For more established businesses, the risk is to the brand rather than the marketing budget. The endorsement needs to be believable, authentic and appropriate, so picking the right ‘sleb is essential. Arnold Schwarzenegger swearing by your protein powder will probably boost sales; his heartfelt endorsement of your invoice management software, not so much.
That wouldn’t be just a waste of money - it would also be a wasted opportunity. What might you have done instead with a well thought-out, conventional campaign? In the most extreme cases, the wrong choice of celebrity could cloud or even tarnish your brand. Kerry Katona’s public struggle with drugs didn’t exactly fit with the ‘that’s why mums go to Iceland’ image, did it?
This doesn’t mean businesses shouldn’t look to Hollywood, music or sports for endorsements. It’s hard to imagine Rolex regrets its sponsorship deal with Roger Federer, for instance. But it will only work when it’s part of a well thought-out strategy for a well thought-out brand. Sometimes, this will mean saying no to free endorsements.
Greggs for example politely declined a public offer from American model, actress and steak bake enthusiast Milla Jovovich to be the face of its brand, because it knew she didn’t reflect its core audience (and no doubt that the story would get a lot of good publicity anyway). The world of celebrities may be glamorous and can be useful to business, but that doesn’t make up for good judgement.