Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Reflections on Celebrity Endorsements

Many people automatically associate celebrity endorsements with large, established firms, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Evan Morgenstein, president and CEO of CelebExperts—a U.S. outfit that matches businesses with celebrities keen to offer endorsements—says that more than half of the client enterprises his company serves are small- or medium-sized firms and non-industry leaders.

“The misconception by most is that only the P&Gs, Johnson & Johnsons and Gatorades of the world can afford a celebrity spokesperson, but that isn’t supported by our experience,” Morgenstein told Forbes contributor Susan Gunelius in 2013. Furthermore, just as businesses vary widely in scale and market capitalization, the category of “celebrity” is also broad, encompassing not only A-list actors, musicians, and professional athletes, but also television chefs, local news anchors, authors, and game-show contestants—to list just a few sub-sets.

If you plan to retain the services of a celebrity endorser, the process is not unlike that of hiring a new employee. You need to find the right person for the job—someone who is not only recognizable amongst your target demographic, but whose reputation is also consistent with the brand image you hope to cultivate. Finally, rather than seeking out the most famous individual who will agree to work with you, your overarching priority should be value for money.

Look for genuine enthusiasm (especially if your celebrity is not a professional actor).

It is always better to seek the endorsement of a celebrity who genuinely appreciates what your business has to offer, rather than one who is primarily motivated by the money or a desire for self-promotion. This is important for many reasons, but in particular, celebrities often have large numbers of followers on social media and make frequent public appearances. If your endorser ends up fielding an offhand question about your company, a positive, enthusiastic response would sure beat an indecisive one.

If you’re torn between hiring a highly renowned celebrity who knows little about your business, versus a less distinguished celebrity who loves and is conversant with your company, favour the latter.

Your endorser will be associated with your brand for years to come.

Celebrity endorsement is always a risk-reward proposition. In many well-known cases, celebrity endorsers have become the de facto “face” of particular companies and brands—for instance, consider actress Catherine Zeta-Jones’s relationship with telecom provider T-Mobile, or NASCAR driver Danica Patrick’s association with web domain name purveyor

But business deals of this sort have also gone awry due to celebrity endorsers’ personal or professional struggles. Anheuser Busch (the parent corporation of Michelob Ultra) probably never anticipated that Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France titles would be rescinded because of the cyclist’s doping. Likewise, Nike invested much reputational capital in one of the world’s most gifted athletes, Tiger Woods, producing a memorable and emotionally evocative series of print and television advertisements. Little did Nike’s executives suspect at the time that Woods’s objectionable activities off the golf course had the potential to tarnish their brand image.

Of course, you can’t know everything about the celebrity you hope will endorse your business, but as always, due diligence is important. Has your prospective celebrity endorser ever been credibly accused of wrongdoing? If so, you’ll need to consider how this reflects on your brand before deciding whether to proceed.

Look for potential freebies and “barter” exchanges.

A productive celebrity endorsement can be a huge marketing boon for a business with modest cash flow and little public exposure. But this begs the question of how such a company can possibly afford to remunerate a prospective celebrity endorser.

There are a couple of ways around that obstacle. In some instances, you may have the opportunity to strike a barter deal, like a celebrity endorsement in exchange for a discount or free merchandise. Otherwise, if a celebrity happens to pay you a visit, you can follow up and encourage h/er to share positive testimonials about your business with friends and associates.

To return to the theme with which this post began: Don’t make the mistake of assuming, just because you run a small firm with an unextravagant marketing budget, that the prospect of a celebrity endorsement is entirely out of reach.