The lure of celebrity is everywhere. We watch them; we read about them; we want to be who they are: we try to buy what they buy. It's therefore no wonder that many companies choose to use celebrities as part of their marketing and brand building campaigns.
The use of celebrities to advertise a company's products can be part of a creative tactic called "in ad presenters". Basically a presenter is a person or character used in their communications that represents and endorses the brand's benefit claims. It is believed that both the brand and the characteristics of the presenter will mesh to present a favourable image to the consumer.
As well as celebrities, "in ad presenters" can be specially created product characters (either human or animated), people representing a lifestyle group or an anonymous presenter such as the help girl in the AAMI ads.
Generally celebrities are the most common forms of presenters used as they offer the viewer or consumer an immediate shortcut to the branding message, via their personal endorsement.
According to recent research statistics, the number of celebrity advertisements has doubled in the past ten years. One in four advertisements features celebrities now as opposed to one in eight in 1995.
First of all, who are celebrities? Celebrities are people that exert significant influence in several facets of society, ranging from arts, music, movies and television, sports, culture, politics and even religion. They range from film and television stars to musicians, sports personalities, royals, politicians, and even socialites who have no defined careers apart from looking beautiful and attending the right events.
So does your brand need a celebrity presenter?
The most common reason for using a celebrity is when the brands benefits are similar to others in the same category. The celebrity presenter can then become the primary benefit (or at least the only benefit that is processed by the target audience). The celebrity in fact "boosts" or amplifies the basic brand message and adds an emotional connection to the brand that might otherwise have not been achieved.
The "because X uses it" phenomenon is most effective when brand choice within the product category has low involvement. The fact that Derryn Hinch has endorsed Kellogg's All Bran or the ever-adorable pooch Imelda is the face of My Dog may be sufficient reason for many people to try the brand. The same may be said for Robert DeCastella and his endorsement of Centrum Vitamins, or Lisa McClune and her shopping at Coles.
Another reason for using a celebrity presenter is when the product category itself is so complicated that many consumers trying to make a brand choice experience an "information overload".
The perfect example of this was the campaign run by ING using the actor/ comedian Billy Connolly. The areas of superannuation and personal investment are often extremely confusing to the average consumer but ING were able to put a lighter, much more straightforward face on the issue.
These personalities are used in brand communications so that the brand's message will stand out among the clutter of advertising from their competitors. They can also be used to convince customers of the credibility of the brand's offerings.
A celebrity endorsement is also a great "brand awareness" creation tool for new brands. The celebrity can forge an easy bridge between newness and obscurity and consumer recognition. This is all about the ability to convey to the target market that the celebrity is benefiting from the new brand, and therefore they will too.
Endorsement by celebrities cannot only help position but also re-position existing brands.
Celebrities contribute to sustaining a brand's aura, by borrowing their positive associations and transferring them to the promoted product.
Celebrities can generate extensive PR leverage and opportunities for brands. They do this because the celebrity endorsement transfers the personality and status of the celebrity as successful, wealthy, and distinctive, directly to the brand.
But is all good news, or are there drawbacks?
It's often said that "the biggest risk in endorsement branding is the celebrity himself/herself." And it's true.
Transferral of value from the celebrity to the product is what celebrity branding is all about. But (and it's a big BUT), you realistically need to look at how long the celebrity endorsing your brand can stay relevant.
Celebrity endorsement is only sustainable whilst the endorser is relevant and credible and aligned to the brand's personality and its aspirations. Strong brands like strong businesses grow and evolve, the question is can the endorser grow and evolve in line with your brand.
Celebrity endorsers are also defined within a certain timeframe. Consider sporting superstars like Lleyton Hewitt and Ian Thorpe. Both offer exceptional cut through, relevance and great value when they're on top of their game but what happens when they fall?
Geographic expansion and team aligned sports people present another issue relating to credibility and relevance. Geography can be fantastic when you are linking and promoting a Victorian AFL player in Victoria, but what happens when the brand grows beyond Victoria?
There are also other issues that are completely out of your control such as the team's performance or whether the player himself gets dropped. In these cases things can go from bad to worse...
We always need to remember that celebrities can get into public controversies that can harm the brands they endorse. Consider Shane Warne's endorsement of Nicorette, only to be photographed later chain smoking cigarettes...
If the celebrity is implicated in any kind of scandal, what impact will this have on the brand? For weaker brands could it in fact ruin the brand? Who would now want to use Michael Jackson to brand their product?"
Celebrities can also become overexposed and lose their star appeal as a result of endorsing multiple brands. They may also decide to change their image, which might sometimes be a contradicting image to that of the brands they currently endorse.
In extreme examples celebrities can decide to intentionally damage a brand that they feel didn't meet their extraneous demands or didn't give them the star treatment they desired.
So what are the criteria for selecting a celebrity to endorse your brand?
How can the right celebrity be matched with the right brand to achieve the desired maximum impact and results? The following five rules of celebrity endorsement in branding provide an indication of this.
Rule One: Credibility
The celebrity must be credible. This means that he/she must have a high level of expertise and talent in their field. These merits bring value to the brand and indicate the intent of the brand in being associated with the very best.
Rule Two: Broad and aligned Appeal
The celebrity must be appealing to the brand target audience. This means that the celebrity must also be appreciated and well liked by the majority of people in the target sector.
Rule Three: Personality
The celebrity's personality must match the brand's personality. Some brands often make the mistake of choosing a celebrity to endorse their brands based on their popularity and appeal. Although these attributes are important, it is essential to understand the significant role that a celebrity's personality brings to the brand.
Where a celebrity that portrays a different brand personality is used, it should be for a strategic purpose such as brand re-positioning, new product launch or brand extension. It goes without saying; the personality of the celebrity should also reflect a positive brand image rather than a negative one.
Rule Four: Uniform Power
The celebrity must not overshadow the brand. This is particularly important for new and up and coming brands. Some established brands already have powerful brand personalities, making it a challenge for celebrities to outshine the brand. However other brands that are yet to ascertain a high level of brand strength have to be careful in choosing a celebrity whose strength doesn't surpass that of the brand.
Rule Five: Constancy and retained relevance
The celebrity must have constancy and lasting appeal. This means that the celebrity should have sustainability and the knack to maintain their image and positioning accordingly. This is often based on how predictably successful a celebrity's career and role is projected to be.
While there are often category specific rules to consider, the five points above are a basic indicator of what a brand needs to continually consider. After all, there is not a brand in business that doesn't need to constantly evaluate itself and the value of the celebrities that endorse their products.
Ultimately, the brand must decide whether a celebrity can actually add another dimension to the brand that will raise the public consciousness and subsequent brand appeal, and sales, or whether this can be better achieved by strengthening the brand message itself.