Celebrities who endorse brands have been around for as long as the very concept of marketing itself. But what are the pitfalls, and what are the factors that define a successful collaboration? Celebrity branding is all about connections, say PR experts Jacqueline Bosselaar and Nick Bailey - and, essentially, make sure it's sincere.
Celebrity endorsement is a beloved branding strategy, but not entirely risk-free as it transpires yet again, now that at least ten brands are ditching South Korean actor Kim Seon Ho from their global advertising campaigns for allegedly forcing his ex-girlfriend to have an abortion.
Compared to the media cyclone surrounding Seon Ho, the recent uproar concerning Netherlands cosmetic brand Rituals and Dutch media personalities Lieke and Jetteke van Lexmond was merely a light breeze, but Rituals probably still hasn't bounced back from it yet. The collaboration with the sisters, who have taken a stand against Covid-19 measures, and believe that the alignment of the planets can exert an influence on matters such as the US Capitol riot, generated resentment among many Rituals devotees. This begs the question: what should a brand focus on when enlisting the services of a celebrity?
It's all about connections
According to Jacqueline Bosselaar, the CEO and founder of Het PR Bureau (whose name is short for 'The PR Agency' in Dutch), celebrity branding or personality endorsement is all about connections. ,,It's a way to help connect your brand with a celebrity's target audience. If the core values match, the influence and reach of that responsibility can enhance the brand. When there is a real connection that is long-term, you can actually build brand preference through that connection within the community or culture that particular celebrity is a part of.''
If things go awry, you run the risk of generating a counterproductive effect, says PR expert Nick Bailey of Futurefactor, the global communications consultancy he runs with business partner Kerrie Finch. ,,The whole point of endorsement is to radiate trust and reassurance.
If the link between a celebrity and a sector is weak, you get a counterproductive effect, which results in consumer disengagement. That is why it is advisable as a brand to share a common goal with the celebrity, so that a common thread is created that the public understands.''
This is precisely what is so brilliant about Nike's successful personality endorsement. When it comes to sports heroes such as Michael Jordan, Serena Williams or Colin Kaepernick, many people unconsciously make an immediate link with that particular sports brand. Bailey: ,,Nike navigates so well with celebrity recommendations that it's hard to separate the personality from the brand.''
Its significant strength in selecting potential celebrity endorsers is that Nike is not afraid to tackle key issues in the current political climate, such as Black Lives Matter. Bailey: ,,Nike has been exceptionally successful in combining popular culture with current events and the general zeitgeist. And they also make it look easy - so much so that you hardly notice what kind of minefield the brand is venturing into sometimes."
One wrong tweet
However, there have been numerous occasions when collaborations between brands and stars have ended on a less jubilant note, for instance the once-solid collaboration between Samsung and basketball player LeBron James took a major hit through just one tweet. Bailey: ,,It was all going well for years, but when James tweeted to his 12 million followers that his phone had erased all of its data, the relationship with Samsung must have been adversely affected."
According to Bailey, something that missed the mark entirely was Robert De Niro's endorsement of Kia's new Niro car. ,,There was a complete discrepancy between the demographic and the Hollywood heavyweight. It left many of us kind of bewildered - not least the star himself it seemed." This ultimately may have been bad for De Niro. ,,There is a risk of poorly aligned endorsements causing a well-made personal brand to devaluate.''
Mismatch with Sarah Jessica Parker
One misconception is the idea that fame and glamour by definition reflect positively on a brand. Blokker, a European retailer in household goods, proudly presented American actress Sarah Jessica Parker in a commercial in 2016, which ultimately turned out to be a mismatch. The chain lost some of its market share in the low-budget segment - achieving exactly the reverse of the intended effect. Bosselaar: ,,With a glamorous actress like Sarah Jessica Parker, you give off the impression that Blokker is operating within the high segment and is therefore expensive. As a result, the company lost many customers, chairman of the supervisory board Michiel Witteveen later revealed."
Parker however will not have suffered any adverse effects from the experience - after all, the risk of American stars losing credibility through overseas jobs is minor, as those commercials are not broadcast in the United States.
When it comes to credible, successful celebrity endorsement, Bosselaar swears by sincerity. This works best when brand and celebrity are in alignment – something that tends to happen more often these days. She mentions Hugh Jackman's work for Laughing Man Coffee. The actor set up the sustainable coffee brand himself, and donates all profits to a corresponding charitable organization. He also plays the leading role in the self-deprecating commercials, often with voice-overs from his colleague and friend Ryan Reynolds. "They are watched and appreciated by millions of people because they feel it's real. Hugh Jackman is the brand. That is the embodiment of today's personality endorsement.''