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Celebrity endorsements – are they worth it?

Celebrity endorsements

So I’ve finally found an excuse to write about Scarlett Johansson. Sadly not in the context of her performance in The Avengers or how she is voted one of the sexiest women in the world, but rather to do with her links with Soda Stream and her now broken links with Oxfam America. Having seen some of the press coverage it is hard to think that she has chosen a fizzy drinks manufacturer over an organisation that does countless good all over the world, but then I imagine one of those is paying her bills more than the other and maybe times are hard for movies stars these days? Anyway, the press coverage has raised some interesting questions over the use of celebrities as brand ambassadors for charities and other brands alike.

It could be argued that this latest incident has raised the profile of both Oxfam by bringing into the spotlight the causes and beliefs of the organisation – more than any advertising campaign might have done. Soda Stream couldn’t have asked for better awareness if they had advertised in the middle of the Super Bowl… oh wait, they did that too.  But does the use of celebs in such a way actually have a beneficial impact on a brand – particularly if they are willing to ditch a charity to promote another brands goods?

Celebrities can often have an uneasy relationship between the public who raise them up to celeb status, and then living up to the image and brand they have created for themselves. They can have a strong influence over people, particularly younger age groups who idolise certain celebs. Brands often capitalise on a celebrity fame to promote their goods and build a brand image through association – this isn’t anything new. For charities, having a brand ambassador gives them free coverage and reach to wider audiences without having to spend big on advertising. For companies such as Virgin Media there remains brand value in a continued association with Richard Branson (even if the company is now mainly owned by Liberty Global).

What is new is the way that people are now able to engage with celebrities. In an ever cynical world where many say they don’t trust advertising, celebs have the power to reach people and drive action in a careful and considered way. This is particularly true of the younger age groups where our research has demonstrated the impact that celebs can have, particularly as kids and teenagers obsess over them as a means to fit in with their peers. With more kids taking to twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms affording them the ability to get closer to their favourite celebs than ever before, brand’s have additional opportunity to get their messages across to new audiences. We’ve talked to kids who have discussed how their status in the playground suddenly escalated because Justin Bieber  (or one of his management team under his name) re-tweeted them. With people ‘following’ celebs more than they follow brands these social networks provide a great way to engage audiences more than a typical brand’s social media plan will deliver.

What happens though if a celeb suddenly goes off the rails a bit, or says something that others don’t agree with – after all they are only human. As a brand how do you manage the fallout if your celeb spokesman gets arrested for drag racing, taking drugs and is caught on camera relieving himself into mop buckets (aka Bieber), or after a long term celeb sponsorship deal you discover that the person you sponsored was a massive cheat (aka Lance Armstrong). It’s a quandary for charities; with every celebrity seemingly expected to support one charity, who do you choose if another charity has already piped you to the post with Angelina Jolie for example?

We know that celebrity endorsements can work, and that consumers aren’t naïve to them. What is interesting from a research point of view is how you best measure the impact of celebs on brands. We know from our work that, when done selectively, the impact for brands can be great thus proving the PR machine worth. For any brands investing in celebrity endorsements,  measuring the ROI these celebs deliver is a very worthwhile exercise.  Not only from a reach point of view, brand building and call to action, but also for identifying which celebs are fit for the purpose – creating reach without any negative connotations. Our campaign and brand research approaches allow us to measure the impact of celebs as a touch point and can tell you whether Scarlett Johansson really is worth it!

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