Last week, I read about a new Beats ad featuring an abundance of celebrities, Julia Louis-Dreyfus being chosen as the new face of Old Navy, and Victoria’s Secret using the starpower of Taylor Swift to encourage sales. Which got me thinking about the marriage of brand and celebrity—probably the strongest and longest-lasting marriage that Hollywood has seen. Celebrity endorsements have been around for decades and as we can see from my experience last week, they’re not going anywhere.
The use of celebrity in advertising is common practice for brands. Celebrities—both sports celebs and the Hollywood kind—are attractive to a brand because aligning them with a product can generate buzz, create brand recognition, and drive sales, especially through their existing fan base. Some brands even go one step beyond the traditional endorsement, hiring celebrities as creative directors—think Alicia Keys for Blackberry or Lady Gaga for Polaroid. According to Ad Age, studies of endorsements have shown that sales for some brands increased up to 20% following an endorsement deal. Some companies have even seen their stock increase by 0.25% on the day the deal was announced.
Successes and Failures
Some celebrity-brand partnerships have been incredibly successful—for most of us, Michael Jordan and Nike likely springs to mind. Despite Jordan having been retired for years, the Air Jordan shoe is still selling like crazy. In 2012, the Jordan brand sold $2.5 billion worth of shoes. At that time, Air Jordans made up 58% of all basketball shoes bought in the U.S. and 77% of all children’s basketball shoes. “Successful” might be an understatement.
The George Foreman grill is another one we’ll all be familiar with. Other recently well received endorsements include Charlize Theron for Dior, Queen Latifah for CoverGirl, and Sofia Vergara for Pepsi—all considered to have enhanced the brand’s image. But for all the successful endorsements there have too been many failures.
Case in point: Beyoncé for Pepsi; the superstar was ripped apart by the media due to the fact that prior to signing her $50 million promotional deal with Pepsi, she was part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move fitness campaign to address child obesity. The claim was that on the one hand, she was part of an effort to address a public health crisis, and on the other, she was responsible for promoting the same public health crisis. Kim Kardashian for QuickTrim failed as well; following Kardashian’s endorsement of the weight loss pill in 2012, the pill was found to be dangerous, and a class action lawsuit was targeted at Kim and sister Khloé for their endorsement.
For these reasons and more, endorsements can be a risky business. Recently, scandal has plagued the sports arena, with NFL player Ray Rice getting indicted for assault and domestic abuse, Adrian Peterson also getting indicted for aggravated assault and reckless injury to a child, and Oscar Pistorius being imprisoned for the death of his girlfriend. Some sports marketing experts are saying that the multi-million athletic endorsement, which peaked with Jordan, will never be the same. Sponsors are starting to shift from using one endorser across a longer period to several endorsers across the shorter term to spread their risk, and dropping athletes is becoming more of a practice.
Where From Here?
An Adweek article notes that we are witnessing a shift away from sponsors hiring athletes as endorsers, a trend dubbed “the incredible shrinking athlete endorsement deal.” Endorsements that may have once gone to athletes are now going to Hollywood entertainers, such as automaker Lincoln settling on Matthew McConaughey as their brand rep despite initially having considered an athlete for the job.
According to many studies, the general population dislikes celebrity endorsements. But they’re not going away anytime soon. In fact, advertisers are even taking advantage of past missed opportunities to market products through celebrity. Product placement in music videos has been around for some time, but thanks to retroactive product placement, products will henceforth be placed in old music videos. Next time you take a trip down memory lane and watch your favorite old-school music videos, you might begin to notice billboards advertising products in the background that didn’t exist when the video initially came out. The same thing has been going on for the last few years with reruns of TV shows and rescreenings of movies.
Love them or hate them, celebrity-brand partnerships are currently an integral part of the advertising landscape. In an age of limited consumer attention span and users fast-forwarding through or opting out of ads, brands need to rely on and create new methods that they know will create brand awareness and recognition. Advertisers recognize that when they do have the attention of their audience, they have to do something impactful. For the brands that can afford it, cue in celebrity.