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How important is celebrity endorsement to a brand?

How important is celebrity endorsement to a brand?

I read with interest this week that Tata’s Land Rover Brand have teamed up with Bear Grylls who will be promoting their new product lines throughout 2014 and 2015. This seems like a match made in heaven, the tough go anywhere action man in partnership with the tough go anywhere car... and the upside, or downside of a celebrity endorsement will depend entirely upon how your target audience are impacted by good news or what they perceive as bad news. I will give two examples:

Tiger Woods

The mercurial golfer Tiger Woods, as I am sure you will remember was worshiped like a golfing god. An impressive giant of a man who dominated his sport. He was the picture of the all American sporting idol. A beautiful wife, two beautiful boys and the whole world at his feet... then came the ‘shocking’ revelation that Mr. Woods was not quite the all American family man the world thought he was. Reports started to emerge of infidelity, stories of women in ‘all ports’ made the headlines all over the world. Disaster one would think... but not the genius marketing men and women behind this sporting icon. Whilst newspapers and the media speculated on the ins and outs in Tiger’s life. Tiger’s marketing men were quietly smiling to themselves. Nike had a great and trusted product line carrying the ‘Tiger Woods’ brand.

What of Tiger’s audience? Middle aged men who would, most likely at the very worst, look at Tiger’s exploits, shrug their shoulders and say ‘shit happens’. At the other end of the scale, the men enjoying a pint at the 19th hole, would pat him on the back in a show of male bravado and carry on buying his endorsed Nike gear.

What of Nike? There was no sales dip, there was very little outcry amongst Tiger’s grass roots fans - the Tiger Woods Brand carried on unabated.

What of Tiger and the revelations? Tiger took some time out, a couple of years actually, where his self imposed exile reduced his earnings from $10.5m to just $650k per year. Then he bounced back in 2012 and 2013 and he was back at his best with average annual earnings of over $7.5m.

Kate Moss

Kate Moss has been at the top of her game for years, yet in 2005, she was allegedly photographed snorting cocaine. Her picture was splashed all over the covers of tabloid newspapers. The ‘scandal’, ‘shock’ and ‘horror’ of what had happened reverberated around the fashion world. Three companies immediately opted out of their contracts with the supermodel. Burberry, Chanel and H&M all panicked that she would bring their brands down with her fall from grace - she didn’t.

The target audience for the brands Kate Moss endorsed, may not have been so negatively impacted by the scandal - there was little or no collateral damage to any of the brands, neither to Kate and sure enough before long she was working again.

So what does this tell us about celebrity endorsement?

In a world where a day does not pass without Brands from Pepsi, to Nespresso, from Johnny Walker, to Tusker Beer bombarding us with images of smiling celebrities endorsing brands and products, it is really difficult to see celebrity not being a an ingredient in product marketing for the foreseeable future. Urban consumers are driven by the cult of celebrity, our news channels, magazines and the internet are full of the latest nonsense voyeuristic mush that we all love to read - yes even those who claim to be ‘above that’.

It seems that, more often than not, consumers of all demographics are prepared to forgive and forget the shortcomings of their hero celebrity endorsers giving them every opportunity to bounce back.

Yet, when it comes to brands, customers are less forgiving of poor customer service, poor quality, broken promises, broken trust etc. and we are going to see this gulf widen in coming years. Consumers will use technology to rate and rank brands and services. Celebrities will be used to endorse brands, to drive eye balls and user numbers, to reposition and to reinvigorate but ultimately, consumers will be the judge of success. In a technological world, where judgements are made in a moment, underperforming brands, products and services will have short lives. The cult of celebrity will help extend this a little, but there will be no substitute for trust and credibility, a broken promise, product or service.

Take the example I gave earlier of Bear Grylls. He will do wonders for Land Rover. He will be a shot in the arm at precisely the right time for that brand - the launch of a new product. He will play his part as the all conquering super-hero that all Land Rover drivers wish they were and most aren’t and if he has a rainy day, Bear will slope off for a short time and come right back kicking and screaming for more - fueled by our insatiable appetite for celebrity.

If the new Land Rover turns out to be a poor car, there is nothing even Bear Grylls can do to overcome that challenge.

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