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Brand marketers have always appreciated the value of celebrity endorsements to meet their promotional objectives. Choose a celebrity image that matches the brand product or service and you have a match made in heaven. At least that was the traditional marketing supposition but in this age of social media the supposed ‘stopping power’ companies delved out millions for has become a sort of Pandora’s Box.
Celebrities have proven to be just as human as the rest of us and when they are indiscrete in their actions the notoriety that follows can prove to be fatal for the sponsor or brand. There are hundreds of celebrity brand endorsements that have worked but there are also numerous endorsements that have paved the way to branding blunders. However, that does not mean that brands will stop using celebrities, it simply means marketers will become savvier in using the notoriety to their advantage!
1. Michael Phelps:
Consider Michael Phelps, the US Olympic swimming champion who took the brand marketing world by storm in 2009. He became the brand ambassador for companies like Subway, Kellogg’s and AT&T plus a few other brands.
The golden boy’s relationship with companies was just picking up when one day a photographer caught him smoking marijuana and the News of the World printed the picture. Sponsors couldn’t get away from him fast enough.
Mark Bonchek, founder of Orbit + Co, a social media strategy company based outside Boston, Mass says that “A celebrity endorsement is a signal, or a trigger…If they see a celebrity they like [endorsing a product], that sends the signal that the product is a good one. It’s part of [consumers’] conversation around a brand or product.”
No company wanted to be the trigger for marijuana.
2. Sharon Stone:
The blonde bombshell Sharon Stone was the face of the Christian Dior campaign creating sexy signals of success until one day the signals got twisted beyond recognition.
The sultry entertainer proved to be successful until she opened her mouth and made a political blunder in 2008. In 2008 a 7.9 level earthquake struck the Sichuan province of China killing more than 68,000 people and leaving 5 million homeless. Most celebrities ignored the devastation and continued their enjoyment of the Cannes Film Festival but not Sharon Stone. In an interview at the time she said the following words:
I’m not happy about the way the Chinese are treating the Tibetans because I don’t think anyone should be unkind to anyone else…. And then this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and then I thought, is that karma? When you’re not nice that the bad things happen to you?
Dior was flabbergasted at the gaffe and it did not take them long to drop her from most of their advertisements especially in China. I mean Karma, really Sharon, do the words give new life to the phrase dumb blond?
3. Kobe Bryant:
Kobe Bryant made millions as sponsors like Nutella used his image in their advertisements. Nutella is obviously a family product (which kid would refuse to eat Nutella?) and Bryant was the role model for kids…or so it was thought.
Bryant, may have been a basketball star but as soon as a woman made accusations of sexual assault and the story hit the press Nutella could not back off fast enough. Nutella did not want to associate with anyone who rightly or wrongly was being accused of assault…not exactly the role model parents wants their kids to aspire too. Thus, another endorsement gone wrong and the question on everyone’s mind was:
4. Cocaine Kate:
Kate Moss is sexy, that is undeniable which is who Coco Chanel used her in their advertisements and H&M made her their celebrity face.
Women scrambled for the prestigious brand until one day it was revealed that she was more than a Dior addict, she snorted Cocaine as well.
H&M couldn’t get away fast enough and Moss was snorting what was left of her reputation.
Though most times marketers choose a great celebrity but have to deal with the backlash when the celebrity shows his or her human traits, many a time the backlash comes from choosing a celebrity without the proper research.
Pepsi has done several bloopers, and this time it seemed to be on the right track when they chose Beyoncé as their celebrity; she popular, sexy and a superstar what could go wrong?
What went wrong was that the marketing team failed to realize that Beyoncé was also supporting Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. Social media comments were progressively harsh about her blatant hypocrisy. Pepsi and fitness, who was she trying to fool?
To Endorse or Not to Endorse?
Alex Goldup a writer for The Guardian, suggests that though celebrity foul-ups are hard on the brand they are a ten day wonder. Tiger Woods, Phelps and Moss all continue to make millions and brands continue to use them for endorsements. People are notoriously fickle and social media may call for action once the celebrity’s fall from grace hits the news, but within weeks the memory is forgotten.
“Celebrities are, by their nature, in the public eye and there is always the chance that they may attract negative attention,” Goldup writes. “…minimize the potential reputational risks by keeping on top of developments and being prepared with responses for media, supporters and other important audiences at the first sign of any problems.”