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Celebrity Endorsements: The Good and the Ugly

creating the perfect brand-celebrity partnership takes far more work that simply tossing a script at the hot young actress, superstar chef, or sports phenom. You have to make sure their brand aligns with yours—what do they stand for? Does their target audience fit with yours? Will the endorsement expand your base?

Creating the perfect brand-celebrity partnership takes far more work than simply tossing a script at the hot young actress, superstar chef, or sports phenom. You have to make sure their brand aligns with yours—what do they stand for? Does their target audience fit with yours? Will the endorsement expand your base?

Over $50 billion is invested globally in celebrity endorsement sponsorships. And for good reason: consumers buy into celebrities and the products they pitch. As reported by Nielsen research, people who follow celebrities are four times more likely to follow a brand on social media endorsed by that celebrity. And following a brand leads to social engagement, which is a tremendous source of word-of-mouth marketing.

It’s true that celebrity endorsements can cut through the clutter and provide brands with the power to inspire, entertain and enlighten across multiple channel experiences. But it’s also true that celebrity endorsements can create inherently unstable relationships with brands. Although celebrities show up in 15% of U.S. ads per research firm Millward Brown, the association between the talent and the brand can be negatively impacted if consumers believe the association is not genuine or if the celebrity is in the news for the wrong reasons.

Blogging Out Loud takes a look at three of our favorite celeb-brand match-ups and three that left us scratching our heads:

The Best: Marukan Rice Vinegar and Brian Tsao, Executive Chef at Mira Sushi & Izakawa

Chef Brian Tsao grew up watching his mother use Marukan Rice Vinegar in recipes; as a chef it was natural for him to do so as well. When he gained prominence in the culinary world he was approached to represent Marukan Rice Vinegar in a trade communications campaign.

Chef Brian Tsao grew up watching his mother use Marukan Rice Vinegar in recipes; as a chef it was natural for him to do so as well. When he gained prominence in the culinary world he was approached to represent Marukan Rice Vinegar in a trade communications campaign.

Brian Tsao is the Executive Chef at New York trendy restaurant Mira Sushi & Izakawa, and the winner of the Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay” show in 2014. Marukan Rice Vinegar partnered with this rising star in the world of Asian cuisine. Executive Chef Tsao is well respected both as an innovative chef and as a skilled restaurateur. His background and reputation provided the Marukan brand credibility in its communications to restaurant industry professionals.

The Worst: Kobe Bryant and Nutella

Nutella’s “Kobe’s Favorite Spread” tagline took on new and disturbing meaning after he was arrested for sexual assault in 2002.

Nutella’s “Kobe’s Favorite Spread” tagline took on new and disturbing meaning after he was arrested for sexual assault in 2002.

In the early 2000s, basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s perfect track record made him an apparent good choice for companies looking for a family-friendly face to endorse their products. And that face was ubiquitous: he was featured in ads for everything from McDonald’s to Coca-Cola to Spaulding to Nutella.

But in 2003, that all came crashing down when a 19-year-old woman accused Bryant of sexually assaulting her. Bryant, who was married, claimed the sex was consensual.

At the time, Nutella was heavily promoting “Kobe’s Favorite Spread” on all its packaging and in brand advertising. The tagline Nutella was so proud of quickly became a favorite joke fodder for late night talk show hosts. Nutella dropped Kobe, but more than a decade later people still remember “Kobe’s Favorite Spread”—for all the wrong reasons.

The Best: Ellen DeGeneres and Cover Girl

The CoverGirl/Ellen DeGeneres relationship includes TV spots, print ads, and cross-promotion between CoverGirl products and her talk show.

The CoverGirl/Ellen DeGeneres relationship includes TV spots, print ads, and cross-promotion between CoverGirl products and her talk show.

Beloved talk show host and comedienne Ellen DeGeneres projects an enthusiastic approach to life that perfectly represents CoverGirl’s accessible image. Ellen’s talk show fans are “classic middle America”—the precise audience CoverGirl wants to reach. Ellen has been a spokeswoman for CoverGirl cosmetics for several years now and it seems Ellen is staying put as one of the many faces of CoverGirl.

Worst: Pink and CoverGirl

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Pink’s edgy style would have been a better fit for an independent beauty brand like Urban Decay

Pink is a rock star in every sense of the word. She’s incredibly popular, she has loads of talent, and she’s a respected advocate for a variety of causes. So it makes sense that CoverGirl would partner with her, right?

Not so fast.

By choosing Pink for a short-lived series of ads, CoverGirl made a play to change up its brand image. But the target audience they hoped to draw in was already firmly in the camps of indy makeup brands like Smashbox and Benefit. Plus, CoverGirl’s tagline: “Easy, breezy, beautiful” just didn’t jibe with Pink’s punk-inspired style.

The Best: Brooke Shields and Calvin Klein

The “Nothing Comes between Me & My Calvins” commercial from 1981 was named the “#1 Sexiest Jeans Ad Ever” by InStyle magazine

The “Nothing Comes between Me & My Calvins” campaign from 1981 was named the “#1 Sexiest Jeans Ad Ever” by InStyle magazine

Most marketing experts agree that the success of the1981 ad that transformed jeans maker Calvin Klein into a worldwide must-have brand was all due to a young girl barely out of puberty: 15-year-old Brooke Shields. The stunningly beautiful actress had already starred in a number of movies that played up on her blossoming sexuality, most notably “Pretty Baby.” The marketers at Calvin Klein saw her as the perfect connection between the brand and youth market.

In the commercial, she looks up at the camera and says in a soft voice, “Wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” The ad sent shock waves through the country—and Calvin Klein jean sales went through the roof.

The Worst: Angelina Jolie and St. John’s Knits

As one retail consultant explained, "For ladies who lunch, a St. John’s knit is almost like a uniform, a status symbol.” For this audience, Angelina Jolie simply wasn’t a good fit.

As one retail consultant explained, “For ladies who lunch, a St. John’s knit is almost like a uniform, a status symbol.” For this audience, Angelina Jolie simply wasn’t a good fit.

In an effort to be more fashion-forward and appeal to a broader audience, St. John’s Knits hired Angelina Jolie to be their spokesperson. The $12 million deal faced intense and immediate backlash from St. John’s Knits devoted customers as Jolie “didn’t represent” the upscale brand to many of its consumer base. Sales stagnated over the course of the three year deal and the brand gave in and dropped the celebrity endorsement.

Share Your Thoughts!

We’re sure you have your own examples of the upside and downside of celebrity endorsements. Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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4 comments on “Celebrity Endorsements: The Good and the Ugly

  1. Mark DiCamillo
    July 18, 2015

    A couple of years ago there was an OC startup that took a different approach. Rather then a long term tie up with a celebrity endorser, you could basically rent their endorsement for as little as a couple of weeks (say around a particular event). The idea was to allow for a more fluid coupling and decoupling of the brand and celebrity, as well as make celebrities more affordable for smaller brands vs. multi-year, multi-million dollar endorsement deals. Sadly they just filed for bankruptcy this year. They just could not monetize the long tail.

    Like

    • Kim Haman
      July 23, 2015

      Hi Mark,
      That is an interesting concept that seems, at least at first glance, like it would have traction. But I can also see that it could further embed the impression that celebrities are just in it for the money and that their endorsement can be easily bought and sold, no matter what the product it.
      Why did this first fail? Do you know? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

      Like

  2. Bill McDonald
    June 17, 2015

    The moment you strike a deal with a celebrity, you must create an exit strategy as well. The fine print of a morals clause in the celebrity contract is all about money, not consumer opinion. If you don’t do this the brand is at risk no matter who the celebrity is. Five years ago, a well known star across several generations, would have made the perfect celebrity endorser, but would have ever guessed about the dark cloud that appears over Bill Cosby today. Even if proven innocent of all charges, what would have happened to your brand?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kim Haman
      July 6, 2015

      Hi Bill! Thank you so much for your input. Your comments got me thinking about all the companies now distancing themselves from Donald Trump’s controversial comments about Latinos. But the truth is, Trump has always been an aggressive, off-the-cuff speaker with views that can be interpreted as offensive. But companies were okay partnering with him–until he pushed the envelope too far and their bottom line was threatened.

      Like

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This entry was posted on June 13, 2015 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .

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