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More brands are using a celebrity endorsement in their marketing and advertising campaigns. While celebrity endorsers seem like a safe option, the growth of celebrity marketing campaigns puts a damper on creativity.

celebrity endorsement

Celebrity endorsements have the power to attract attention

Celebrities have some of today’s most valuable brands. They have always been able to command a strong hold over our imaginations, from Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo to Bonnie Prince Charlie, Napoleon, and Princess Diana, to Jack Welch and Steve Jobs, Babe Ruth, David Beckham, Ronaldo, and the Beatles. But it’s never been anything like it is today. The cause – social media and its ability to make celebrities ubiquitous and coverage of their actions instant.

Celebrity brands wield enormous power. They can draw our attention away from just about anything. Viewership of the Super Bowl dramatically dipped after Beyoncé made a surprise announcement of a new record release and people turned off their TVs to go and look for it. They command armies of followers, who imitate everything they do and start new fashion trends. Taylor Swift has single handedly popularized cowboy hats; Olivia Rodriguez 90’s grunge fashion and purple hair; Beyoncé metallic sparkle, glitter, and barely-there body suits; and of course, Steve Jobs chinos and black turtlenecks.

Celebrities are no longer mostly pop stars and film stars. They’ve replaced just about every kind of brand in just about every category.

Fashion is no longer focused on Dior, Chanel, or Gucci, as much as the designers who represent them. Shoppers follow them from brand to brand—Maria Grazia Chiuri from Valentino to Dior, Sabato de Sanro, from Valentino to Gucci, and Phoebe Philo, famous for her transformation of Celine, to her own brand where she is now creating instantly sold-out collections.

Restaurants are no longer about the locations, but the celebrity chefs who cook in them (or, increasingly, own multiple restaurant brands)—Daniel Boulud, Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Guy Fieri, and many others.

Business news zooms in on famous CEOs, as much as the companies they run—from Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg to Satya Nadella at Microsoft, Sam Altman at OpenAI, and now Mika, the first AI robot CEO.

Politics is now all about personalities. Attention on the US election is zeroing in on Trumps lawsuits and Biden’s age, not the policies of Republicans or Democrats. Russia is Putin, Ukraine Zelensky.

Celebrity brands make money—for the celebrities

And celebrity makes money. Far more money than ever before. Think of Taylor Swift’s last concert series, which generated more than $1 billion in ticket sales.

A major reason for this is that celebrity brands are transferrable across categories.

Some of the most popular and profitable beauty brands have been created by celebrities—Fenty Beauty by Rihanna had sales of over $1 billion in its first year.  Music stars have migrated to fashion, creating their own brands, and being hired by famous fashion houses—Rihanna now has her own label at LVMH, Pharrell Williams has been hired as creative director of menswear for Louis Vuitton.

Celebrities have their own restaurants and food businesses.  Paul Newman started it with Newman’s Own, salad dressings and sauces.

Beginning with Ronald Reagan, screen stars have entered politics—Arnold Schwarzenegger from body builder to governor of California, Zelensky from a TV comedy show to President of Ukraine. And, of course, Trump would never have got into the White House, if it wasn’t for his reality TV show. His income has come from brand licensing, not owning real estate.

The boundaries between music, fashion, art, food, and politics are fast disappearing.

Celebrity endorsements can make money—for others

Companies have seen all this. They have stampeded after celebrity endorsements. Association with a celebrity influencer can bring demonstrable business advantages.

A celebrity endorsement can increase brand awareness. Celebrities are some of the most powerful influencers, with have large fan bases and huge social media followings. Their actions attract public attention, which can instantly boost a brand’s visibility and reach a wider audience.

Partnership with a celebrity influencer can enhance brand image. Celebrities can positively influence perceptions by associating a brand with their own attributes, such as success, popularity, or specific values. For example, Emma Watson’s passion for sustainability casts a positive halo over fashion brands. An athlete endorsing a fitness brand in its marketing campaigns can increase its image of being athletic and healthy.

Celebrity endorsements can be used for targeted marketing. Brands can leverage a celebrity’s image to reach a specific demographic or target market.

Relationship with a celebrity creates familiarity, credibility, and trust for a brand, leading to increased sales and customer loyalty. Nike saw an 800% increase in basketball shoe sales in the first 3 years of its partnership with Michael Jordan. During Pepsi’s collaboration with Beyoncé (2003-16) PepsiCo’s revenues grew from $29 to $63 billion. Mint Mobile’s revenue grew 50,000% in 3 years following its promotion by Ryan Reynolds and led to its acquisition by T-Mobile for more than $1 billion in 2020.

There are risks but the benefits outweigh the risks. Celebrity faux pas are few and far between. And celebrity influencers bounce back. Look at John Galliano, fired from Dior for his antisemitic remarks, now creating a storm at Maison Margiela. Kanye West (now Ye) lost his partnerships with Adidas and other brands, after he declared his love for Hitler, but he’s now back with a #1 album.

Brands should stop overusing celebrity endorsements

It has gone too far. 58 ads aired during the 2023 Superbowl.  Almost half of them featured celebrities. The onslaught of famous faces was relentless, from TV and movie actors such as Edie Falco, Ben Affleck, Scarlett Johansson, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, to music stars Cardi B, Ice Spice, Usher, and Beyoncé to top sports players, including Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Wayne Gretzky. Some had a whole lot of celebrities—Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Usher, the Beckhams, and Jelly Roll all appeared in ads for Uber Eats.

The result of this overkill? A celebrity endorsement is ceasing to be a differentiator. The parade merges together. Celebrity marketing campaigns won’t generate longer term recall for any brand. The situation is even worse in India, where brands exploit the fascination with celebrities year-round, not just during the Cricket world cup. Movie and sports stars appeared in almost 30% of all TV ads in 2023. The Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan alone endorsed 53 brands, ensuring that his fame would not be associated with any of them.

Why are brands prostituting themselves in this way? It’s risk avoidance. Celebrity endorsements can be shown to make money. Using celebrities in marketing campaigns is something CEOs and CFOs can understand. Much easier to explain and justify than great creative advertising, which breaks norms and takes risks. There’s also an element of the herd instinct – one brand does it, its competitors feel they have to follow.

Celebrity brands have the power to attract attention

The craze for celebrity endorsements will reduce creativity and negatively impact brand building. Celebrity marketing campaigns are effective only when there is an authentic match between the celebrity’s values and those of the brand. Think of Schwarzenegger’s environmental activism and his partnership with Tesla. George Clooney’s sophisticated image and global recognition make him the perfect ambassador for international luxury coffee brand, Nespresso. In their quest for immediate sales, companies have recklessly abandoned the idea of association with celebrities who fit their brand. The effect will be to diminish advertising’s long-term impact, reduce ROI and destroy brand value.

There are signs that social media audiences are tiring of celebrity influencers. Hopefully the current brand obsession with celebrities will also wear itself out.


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