By Mike Canavan, CEO BBS Australasia.
You often hear a mournful and somber marketing or PR spokesperson at a hastily convened press conference proclaiming: “the actions of XXXX are incompatible with our core brand values”. Marketers generally trot this out when discussing unfortunate lapses of judgment by certain celebrity or high-profile sports stars associated with promoting their product or brand.
I suppose the most recent of the “whoops” moment would have to be the scandal associated with the ball tampering saga that engulfed the Australian cricket team during its recent tour to South Africa.
Proving that humans are just that…. “Human”….. Steve Smith, David Warner, and Cameron Bancroft had what could only be described as a brain fade, and took to the cricket ball with sandpaper and sweet, to gain a competitive advantage. “Ballgate”, “Sandpapergate”, “Cheats” –the headlines screamed. Corporate sponsors reacted with shock and horror. Smith and his fellow players were branded as cheats, and the sponsors support and dollars evaporated faster then cold beer in a dust storm. It was probably lucky for Smith that his major sponsor the Commonwealth Bank had other more pressing matters on their collective corporate minds rather then a few sheets of sandpaper.
However you don’t have to wait for a brain fade for things to become tricky.
The importance of checking the past performances of key talent cannot be underestimated. Many funny and not so funny stories have arisen from a failure to do so. Possibly one of the most famous examples was the case of Mary Ann Briggs. She was selected to pose as a young mum holding a bouncing energetic baby on the famous 1972 Proctor & Gamble Ivory Soap Pack advertising campaign. The tag line was to be: “Ivory Soap,99 & 44/100% pure”. Everyone involved thought she had the perfect look and message to appeal to the millions of people who populated Middle America. To make matters worst, the brand’s name was apparently a sign from heaven above. As the story goes, Harley Proctor was distracted in church one Sunday morning, trying to come up with what to call the new white soap of exceptional purity that James Gamble had invented. He’d been struggling over a name for months when, legend has it; someone started reading aloud the 45th Psalm. When they reached verse eight, Harley was inspired:
“All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad”.
So Ivory soap it would be.
What could possibly go wrong? Well…
Once the pack hit the supermarket shelves it soon became known that Mary Ann once enjoyed a totally different audience to that the P&G’s Ivory Soap Girl’s was ideally targeting at. She was in fact also known as Marilyn Chambers, an American porn actress, exotic dancer and one-time vice presidential candidate (2004). She first rose to infamously as the lead talent in the infamous 1972 XXX rated feature “Behind the Green Door”. The wicked wags that had produced the skin flick soon capitalized on their starlets new role by promoting their porn Fick as featuring the “Ivory Soap Girl who was 99 and 44/100% IMPURE”. Needless to say there were red faces all around and the very conservative Procter & Gamble recalled all the products and advertising material that featured her it was all to be destroyed but alas the damage was done. This cost P&G millions and many their careers.
Then of course you have the Israel Folau saga that was recently on the front page of every newspaper in our Nation. Qantas have said it was “very disappointed’’ in Israel Folau for his position on homosexuality. They said that they (QANTAS) may have to re-evaluate their sponsorship position after a meeting with Rugby Australia. Two weeks ago, Folau said on social media that gays are going to “hell if they don’t repent of their sins”. Nothing really came of it, except a Ms. Castle (CEO of Rugby Australia) held a doorstop media conference about “having a conversation” with Folau and that more “conversations” will be had. “This was not Rugby Australia’s corporate view they are Folau’s personal private opinion”. But needless to say, you just predict just what people might say or do.
There is no doubt Celebrities are plastered all over TV, social media, magazines, and any other place you’d find an ad. But do those endorsements truly lead to an increase in sales of a product? In short, the answer is yes, but there can be some drawbacks. Most importantly the key is who you hitch your collective product band- wagon too.
By their very nature they go in and out of fashion, depending on their current hits in movies and music. In sport, their performance and success. This is not to mention some of the dubious and contentious things they do or don’t do on and offline now in this era of social media saturation.
Here are some advantages and repercussions of using celebrity spokespeople on the brands in which they’re promoting.
- Builds credibility
People are attached to their favourite celebrity, and they are generally well trusted by their fans. If they use your product, it shows their fans that it is a product worth using and builds trust in your brand. Seeing a celebrity attach their name to a product also reassures consumers of the quality of your product. The celebrity would be at risk for damaging their reputation if they endorsed a product that’s quality was lacking.
- Makes your brand stand out
Using a celebrity to represent you helps to differentiate your brand from competitors. It also can improve ad recall, making consumers remember your ad and that your brand is connected to their favourite celebrity.
- Opens up new markets
Choosing the right celebrity can open up your brand to new markets. For example, when Nike wanted to expand from primarily sponsoring tennis and track, they partnered with Michael Jordon – and this partnership has been so successful it has expanded into its own subsidiary company.
They can sometimes bring good ideas to the mix. The British comedian John Cleese was famous four being a font of a creative resource and an added greatly to work that he did for commercial endorsements.
And just sometimes they can be the most professional of people to work with, being used to being in front of camera professionally.
- Celebrity images change
When you sign on a celebrity to endorse your brand, you sign on to everything that comes with them. While this usually means bringing in some of their fan base as customers, it can lead to disaster if a scandal occurs. A prominent example of this was Tiger Woods in 2009, when rumours of his infidelity surfaced and NEW YORK Fortune wrote: — “As Tigergate continues to unfold, the million-dollar question — actually, make that the billion-dollar question — remains: will his sponsors stick around”?
Chief among Woods’ accomplishments was that he’s the first athlete said to hit a billion in career earnings — but most of that kitty comes from endorsements. According to Sports Illustrated: “Woods’ on-course earnings amounted to only 7% of the nearly $100 million he took home in 2008”.
Brands began to drop him as a sponsor to avoid the backlash from consumers. Nike didn’t immediately release him as a sponsor and lost customers as a result.
They can be difficult. After all they are famous. Ivan Lendl (a once famous tennis player) once left a shoot early to attend “an emergency meeting”. Next morning however he was splashed over the front page of the local newspapers playing golf. It was clearly his view that his golf handicap needed more work than the product he was supposed to be representing.
There is no doubt that you will have to deal with their people. Their people may include family members, managers, a boy or girl friends, this spiritual advisers or just general advises. This can become extremely frustrating.
Some celebrities will require input and script approval.
It is a general experience that they usually work are on very tight schedules, and of course you will have to work around THEM.
- They may overshadow your brand
If a celebrity is too big, their popularity might instantly overshadow your brand. If the ad focuses too much on the celebrity, it can cut out brand recognition in the minds of consumers. This can also become a problem if a celebrity is endorsing multiple products at the same time, as they might see the celebrity and associate it with another brand.
- Endorsements are expensive
This may seem obvious, but getting a celebrity endorsement typically requires shelling out a pretty substantial chunk of money. Pepsi decided it was worth the price when they signed on with Beyonce for a whopping $50 million 10-year endorsement contract, in 2017. While advertising deals for celebrities endorsing junk foods are nothing new, this one marks a shift in its questionable nature. In a recent New York Times article the president of PepsiCo’s global beverage group said: “Consumers are seeking a much greater authenticity in marketing from the brands they love. It’s caused a shift in the way we think about deals with artists, from a transactional deal to a mutually beneficial collaboration.”
Not only will Beyoncé be featured in ads premiered after her performance at the Super Bowl half-time show (sponsored by Pepsi, naturally), but her face will be featured on limited edition Pepsi cans, and she will be given money for her own “creative projects.” The Times reports: “The less conventional aspects of the deal are meant as collaborative projects that indulge Beyoncé’s creative whims, and might well have no explicit connection to Pepsi products.”
However if you aren’t a multi-billion dollar company, it’s important to assess if the increase in consumer interest and revenue is worth the cost of the endorsement.
Whatever the case, great care must be exercised when deciding if the Celebrity (social influencer) route is the one you want to take your brand down.