Are celebrity endorsements a good thing?

With Jennifer Aniston and Nicole Kidman fronting new campaigns for Emirates and Etihad respectively, we want to know – do celebrity endorsements help brand image?

“NO” says Roger Hawa, Managing Partner and Strategic Communications Director, Republique Dubai

RogerHawaIt’s become so popular to see celebs tweeting and raving about brands they endorse that it has become increasingly hard to stop the cynicism from creeping in.”

Although I would usually take the pro side in a debate such as this today, I have decided to probe the perils of such endorsements. In todays’ world, celebrity endorsements don’t just take the form of adverts. Celebrities are also paid to tweet and post about the brands they endorse and this has added yet another dimension to this type of marketing. Thanks to social media, we now know what these celebrities had for breakfast, as well as what they did the night before. It’s become so popular to see celebs tweeting and raving about brands they endorse that it has become increasingly hard to stop the cynicism from creeping in.

So why aren’t celebrity endorsements necessarily a good thing? There are far more reasons than we would care to admit…

Celebrity overexposure: It would appear that certain celebrities will slap their names on almost anything and everything. David Beckham, Nancy Ajram, Amitabh Bachchan immediately spring to mind, with each personality far more recognisable than the numerous brands that they endorse. Because of this, marketers run the risk of consumers remembering such celebrities rather than the brands that they are supposed to be endorsing and this dramatically lessens the impact of supporting each brand individually and creatively.

Celebrity downfall: Stars, we are told, are only human and therefore are capable of making mistakes and creating a few scandals. I doubt anyone will ever forget the Tiger Woods scandal? And sadly for his sponsor, we also remember the brand he was associated with at the time. Again, in today’s highly wired social world, these scandals now travel a lot faster with a much higher reach and frequency, making damage control for brands much more difficult. So just as famous personalities can bring business in instantly, they can just as easily take it away.

The celebrity may eclipse the brand: Some celebrities are really popular and, although they might bring in immediate awareness and wide recognition to the brand, they can also outshine the brand/product. There are two brands – the personal brand as well as the product itself – that are then at play through this approach and the two will be fighting for the same eyeballs and hearts. Sadly for marketers, consumers tend to fall for the celebrity in this type of competition.

Celebrity brand matching: It is crucial for a brand to choose a celebrity that best matches the values and attributes of the brand being endorsed, or the consequences can be disasterous. An example of mismatching was the use of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West in a recent Balmain campaign. This was definitely a subjective choice, but in my opinion matching a timeless and successful fashion house with a much ridiculed and controversial couple is highly questionable. This is a brand that prides itself on taste and class… can we say the same things about these two endorsers?

I’ll end it on that note.

“YES” says Olga Kudryashova, Head of Strategic Planning, Cheil Worldwide

 OlgaCollaboration, such as that between Pharrell Williams and adidas Originals, not only elevates the brand image, but builds a unique, undeniable bond between the brand, the endorser and the people”

Across many languages, there is a saying: “Tell me who your friends are and I can tell who you are.” If we look at celebrity endorsers as “friends” of the brand then there is no doubt they can have an imprint on a brand’s image – adding a premium touch, fueling ‘talk-ability’, strengthening credibility and more. The difference between now and the pre-social media age is that today celebrity endorsements, as a marketing tool, can be exploited at more depth and a larger scale.

To thrive in the so-called human era, brands need to build more trusted connections by adopting behavior that is more human than institutional. Getting closer to consumers is impossible without being genuine, interesting and relevant. The days of “fans” are gone. Friendship is what counts now. This shift is very clear, especially in social media and messaging apps. The popularity of friends and family groups is growing rapidly. The new players in the messaging business, such as Line, allow you to add celebrities to your friends list.

But the success of an endorsement, and consequently its impact on the brand’s image, depends on how genuine the friendship appears to the consumers. The moment people feel the relationship is fake they stop believing. Influencers can be considered a new form of endorsement. But their credibility fades away if people realise that they are saying nice things about a brand or a product just because they are being paid for it. How believable can a friendship between a haute couture fashionista and Shoe Mart be realistically? The same applies to product placements. While Aston Martin and James Bond have a life-long affair, the producers are obviously paid a fortune to feature a Sony smartphone.

The secret of an effective endorsement at all times has been the personality fit. Friendship is about common values, about knowing and complementing each other, sharing the social context. If the connection between the brand and the endorser is deep-rooted and obvious, a broad arsenal of tools is available for that brand to tell the friendship story and create talking points around the brand in the circles of its endorser.

It is worth noting that a new form of “friendship” between brands and celebrities is evolving that does not require any proof of authenticity – collaboration. Rather than endorsing the final product as it goes to market, celebrities are invited to co-create value at a much earlier stage. Collaboration, such as Pharrell Williams and adidas Originals, not only elevates the brand image, but builds a unique, undeniable bond between the brand, the endorser and the people. In these instances, it can clearly be seen how celebrity endorsements can help boost a brand’s image.