If a celebrity has it, then we will want it. For this reason, a famous face is usually a safe and effective method of selling an idea, lifestyle or product. Celebrity endorsement closes the gap between consumer and celebrity and in turn boosts sales for the corporates behind the products.
This is commonly referred to as the ‘halo effect’ – the hope that the celebrity’s glamour, or lack of it, will rub off on the subjects they endorse. And it is nothing new. Film stars in the 1940s posed for cigarette adverts, while Bob Hope heralded American Express in the 1950s.
But celebrity endorsement can be trickier than you might think. Celebrities are after all still human, despite their carefully crafted personas.
Your target celebrity may have brand synergy with your products for promotional purposes today, but there is always a chance a celebrity’s manufactured image can begin to crack – or at worst shatter, usually in spectacular tabloid style and destroy a company’s multi-million pound marketing campaign and reputation overnight.
Queen of Iceland
Take for example Kerry Katona, the ruling queen of Iceland was unceremoniously dropped from her throne after a string of front page allegations which did not fit in with the family-friendly retailer’s image.
And who can forget the supermodels of the nineties, who all endorsed PETA by posing naked rather than wearing fur; then promptly slipped back into pelts for their favourite designers, to the fury of the animal rights charity.
However, if properly managed and promoted, celebrity endorsement is extremely effective in not just selling products, but in raising the profiles of companies – particularly ones which require profile enhancement on a small budget. Charities in particular are big fans of celebrity endorsement – a famous face can raise funds by gaining empathy from the consumer.
Take for example Pugsy Bear. Cute as he is, a loveable stuffed animal was never going to be enough to cut it as the sole face of Children in Need – a host of celebrities were also drafted in to raise funds for the charity, perhaps the biggest example of celebrity endorsement there is.
The wining combination of celebrities, a strong message and superb branding has made Children In Need one of the most memorable and successful fundraising initiatives.
But charities must still choose wisely and focus on relevance. Research has shown that the older the consumer, the less influenced they are by celebrity endorsement. A charity needing to appeal to both the young and old, must take into account the preference and susceptibility of all generations.
For example, Golley Slater Manchester was tasked with finding celebrities to endorse an adult hospice, which required this winning combination. St Ann’s Hospice is one of the UK’s largest adult hospices in the UK and has always retained a loyal support network of fundraisers who can be fairly classed as being in the grey market.
But the hospice needed to attract new supporters, including a younger audience is key to this and celebrity endorsement was key to hook the younger recruits in. Armed with the benefits of supporting such a highly regarded charity, the team managed to secure a host of young stars from the Coronation Street cast plus Manchester finest premiership footballers to promote and take part in the charity’s annual Manchester Midnight Walk.
Footballers and soap stars have national appeal
Not satisfied with regional photocalls and celebrity attendance, the team went above and beyond to reach a national audience by befriending the set designers of Coronation Street. They negotiated for the St Ann’s Hospice Manchester Midnight Walk poster to be displayed in several of the scenes in one of the episodes.
Cryptically informed that one of the characters was about to have an accident and end up in hospital, we were invited to submit the poster for display in the hospital reception area. Long-suffering Gail Platt had been pushed down the stairs by her evil son; bad news for the character, but superb tidings for the hospice. Enquiries about the walk surged and registrations to take part smashed the previous year’s record.
Celebrity endorsement is for pushing the boundaries, not just limited to photocalls and public appearances.
In a radical move, Pepsi has announced it will no longer use celebrities to sell its drink, because it believes they take away attention away from the product.
More product placement
So where does this leave the PR practitioner? Perhaps the recent step by the Advertising Standards Agency towards allowing product placement in TV programmes will begin to render celebrity endorsement obsolete.
Whatever the argument for or against and whatever emerging trends are around the corner, right now celebrities still steal the limelight and if the campaign is well managed, they can still take the product or company with them.
Photo shows footballer Shaun Wright-Phillips supporting St Ann’s Hospice