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Celebrity endorsements...do they work?

Business Sunday 17/September/2017 17:24 PM
By: Times News Service
Celebrity endorsements...do they work?

Muscat: Celebrity endorsements have been around for a long period of time. One of the earliest quoted examples dates back to the late 18th century when the Queen endorsed Wedgwood chinaware! This proved to be a strategic move that quickly helped establish the brand across Europe. A premium position it enjoys even today.
Between 1875 and 1900, a “trade card” was used for endorsements by a variety of brands, especially in the cigarette industry. The card used to carry a picture of the celebrity along with a product description. This was either inserted in the packaging or handed over with the product to further reinforce the purchase decision.
In recent times, Nike has been one of the most consistent and astute users of celebrities. The brand has had an iconic association with Michael Jordan, which has also led to the extremely successful introduction of the “Air Jordan” line of shoes. Nike’s powerful association with Tiger Woods also helped the brand break into the golf apparel and equipment market.
This leads to the question: Does celebrity advertising always work? Is it the best way to build a brand? How should an endorser be chosen? What are some of the pitfalls one should watch out for?
A landmark study conducted by Millward Brown highlighted the startling fact that almost 18 per cent of the ads released globally in 2011 had featured a celebrity. This indicates that using celebrities to endorse a product seems to be a very popular form of brand building.
However, in order to make it work, it is critically important to choose the right celebrity. To do this, you have to first define your key brand attributes and values and then pick a celebrity whose qualities, lifestyle and public perceptions are aligned with them.
For example, a football star like Ali Al Habsi would be a great fit for an automobile brand because of common attributes like high performance, agility and reliability. Similarly, an ace golfer like Azzan al Rumhy would be an excellent fit for high-end watches due to shared attributes of precision and sophistication.
It has been established that the benefits of endorsement are maximised when the association extends over a long period of time. It also greatly helps if the celebrity is involved in a range of brand activities, which takes the relationship beyond a mere presence in ads. This could be in the form of appearances at retail outlets, major launch events, brand promotions and a whole host of related activities. More creative associations will result in better recall and a more positive influence on the brand. The celebrity should come to be associated with the brand just as much as the brand is associated with the celebrity.
It is also imperative to pick celebrities who are unlikely to indulge in questionable behaviour. This is a tough one, but due diligence could save a tonne of embarrassment. When Tiger Woods’ extramarital affairs became public, brands he was endorsing lost between $5 billion to $12 billion in sales!
An interesting observation is that an endorsed brand can sometimes be adversely affected by the “vampire effect.” Simply put, this happens when the powerful personality of the celebrity overshadows the advertised brand. In such a situation, the endorsement actually leads to a reduction in the effectiveness of the ad as the consumer remembers the celebrity, but does not recollect the brand. Let us do a simple exercise. Try remembering some of the recent ads featuring celebrities and then try to connect the message to a specific brand. Wherever, you can’t remember the brand, it is an example of the vampire effect in action.
Always remember that celebrity endorsements are not a substitute for other brand building activities. Just because a brand is using a celebrity, it is not an automatic winner. For the brand to make a strong impact in the market, it needs to perfectly tune all the elements of the marketing mix.

* The author is a seasoned marketing professional, who has spent almost two decades in the Middle East. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Times of Oman.