By David Ward
As ads during this year's Super Bowl featuring Harrison Ford, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Jeff Bridges show, brands can still get a great deal of impact with a high-profile campaign featuring the right celebrity spokesperson.
But what is changing is how brands are hiring and activating celebrity endorsers, especially as digital and social channels provide fans more access to celebrities they're eager to get content from, even in the form of an ad.
"Social media has substantially altered the way brands work with celebrities," explains Jeff Chown, CEO of entertainment and luxury at The Marketing Arm, whose services include helping brands find the right celebrity for their messaging and marketing goals. "It has created an expectation and demand for access and information, something that wasn't there prior. If a celebrity has a highly engaged
A celebrity spokesperson can give brands a big boost, but marketers need to be wary of controversy.
Celebrities active on social media can help a brand engage new audiences, but they also bring with them the potential for problems as well.
As the recent controversy involving actor Kevin Hart and the Academy Awards shows, some celebrities now have digital/social histories that go back a decade or more. Posts made years ago that were ignored or seemed innocuous at the time are being dug up, proving embarrassing to the celebrity and potentially damaging to any brand that has partnered with them.
In order to maximize the effectiveness of a celebrity endorser in both traditional and digital channels while minimizing the risks, brands are increasingly turning to data and analytics both to help guide the selection process and to determine the best channels on which to engage consumers.
"In the past, brand marketers were often choosing celebrities for multimillion-dollar campaigns because they had a personal affinity for them — or their children had an affinity," says Janet Comenos, co-founder and CEO of Boston-based Spotted, a celebrity data and analytics company helping brands, entertainment companies, and agencies make smarter celebrity-based marketing decisions. "There wasn't a lot of rigor in the process."
Today's marketers are now well aware that what they don't know about their celebrity endorser does have the potential to hurt them.
"The biggest mistake that most companies make when selecting a spokesperson is a failure to conduct a disciplined analysis," explains Shiv Gupta, principal and CEO at Quantum Sight, a data-driven marketing firm. "This means using a combination of social data and bespoke research and translating it into a financial model. What celebrities get paid is generally based on their popularity and not their impact to the bottom line."
The New Celebrity Endorser Model — Risk vs. Reward
Hans-Dieter Kopal, co-founder of Foresight Solutions Group and a partner at the entertainment-centric Principal Communications Group, says a major challenge facing brands as they evaluate the risks of bringing on a celebrity spokesperson is that there are no hard and fast rules on what might be damaging to a star's or brand's reputation.
Rumors of an affair or an insensitive joke on Twitter might permanently ruin the image of some celebrities, but there are others, such as the rapper Snoop Dogg, who have emerged as great spokespersons for brands despite an interesting and at times controversial past.
Kopal says what Foresight provides is a deep dive through a celebrity's public information so brand managers are at least aware of what may be out there. "We cannot and will not make hiring and firing decisions," he adds. "But at the same time there is an interest in having a very well-rounded view of what brands are engaging with and what those digital pasts might look like."
These are not the Hollywood fixers of old, capable of burying a police report or otherwise keeping a scandal out of the media. But Foresight can track down content that hasn't attracted attention yet and work with the celebrity and the brand to both evaluate the risk and develop an effective response.
Companies such as Spotted can also help advertisers sort through all the publicly available data and provide proprietary research and analysis on a celebrity, including their appeal internationally. Comenos says brands often get excited about a celebrity with a large social media following, forgetting that many of those followers may have been attracted years ago and the celebrity no longer holds their attention.
She also stresses that using a celebrity for influencer marketing is not the same as having a star as the face of your brand. "It's important to recognize the difference between leveraging the celebrity's social media for influencer marketing and celebrity endorsements," Comenos explains, adding that with influencer marketing, it's primarily about the celebrity touting the brand or product. "Celebrity endorsements span across multiple channels, including on- and offline/traditional media, and it's really about the brand advertising the celebrity."
Campaigns featuring celebrity spokespeople also tend to be focused higher up the purchase funnel, helping to position the brand in the consumer's eye, whereas influencers are important further along the path to purchase, with many having call-to-action links on their posts that consumers can click on to make a purchase.
Though it's not part of a hard sell, a celebrity endorser's social media presence can break down the barriers between stars and their followers, making them seem more relatable to the target audience, says Derrick Daye, managing partner at Los Angeles–based brand consultancy The Blake Project. "Through these channels it can be argued the celebrity is more amplified, authentic, accessible — all traits appealing to consumers," he says.
Chown of The Marketing Arm agrees, adding, "It is less about the size of a celebrity's following and more about the quality of the audience toward a brand's objectives, as well as how the celebrity and brand partner bring their relationship to life on social."
When Celebrities Work Well
One of the advertising tropes currently making the rounds is that influencers can be far more effective for a brand's bottom line than a celebrity spokesperson.
"There is a bit of a misperception that younger consumers have a preference for influencers over celebrity endorsers," Comenos says. "But that's not really the case as long as the celebrity and the brand have an authenticity with those consumers."
On the fashion side, as examples, Selena Gomez has done wonders for Coach, while Gigi Hadid was an effective brand ambassador in helping reposition Tommy Hilfiger for a younger, broader audience.
For all the data and analytics now available to marketers, sometimes the right celebrity endorser only seems apparent once a campaign begins. Actress Kristen Bell has proved to be a great spokesperson for Enterprise, with a winning persona that cheerfully conveys the varied services Enterprise now offers.
Enterprise VP of brand marketing Rob Connors says the company looks to leverage Bell across a variety of platforms, including high-profile TV ads and a series of video shorts that are supported by targeted paid media in digital, mobile, and across the company's social media properties.
Actress Kristen Bell appears in a TV spot for Enterprise on the future of transportation. Bell stars in a series of campaign spots that run on TV and the brand's social media channels. Rob Connors, VP of brand marketing at Enterprise, credits Bell's humor and genial demeanor with much of the campaign's success.
"Each year, we sit down to brainstorm new ways to keep our commercials and digital videos engaging and relevant," Connors explains "We then execute pre-testing on all creative concepts to determine which resonate best with our key audience."
But Connors also gives Bell much of the credit for the success of the campaign, adding, "She brings the commercials to life with her sense of humor. Her busy lifestyle speaks to the rent, buy, share messaging that showcases the wide range of transportation solutions offered by Enterprise and how they can be valuable for a variety of life occasions."
When Celebrity Deals Fail
Though celebrities are often put on a pedestal by the media and public, they are all too human, and as the Bill Cosby scandal showed, even the most pristine image can quickly crumble in the face of damaging information.
Lori Loughlin, "Aunt Becky" to millions of viewers who grew up with the TV show Full House, was recently named as an alleged participant in a college admissions scandal, forcing Crown Media Family Networks, parent company of The Hallmark Channel, to cut ties with the actress, ending her roles on several series.
Hewlett-Packard also pulled down a 2017 ad that featured Loughlin and her 19-year-old high-profile influencer daughter, Olivia Jade Giannulli. Several companies working with Giannulli, including cosmetics store Sephora and haircare brand TRESemmé, have also terminated contracts due to the allegations.
"It's impossible for any brand to control what a celebrity does in their personal time and/or has done in the past, which may lead to them being caught up in a controversy," says The Marketing Arm's Chown, adding it's incumbent on the brand and its agencies to do as much vetting as they can of the talent's past so there are no surprises. "If the talent passes that vetting process and we decide to move forward, we then include a strong morals clause in the agreement that protects the brand's investment in the talent if he/she is involved in a controversy at any point during the agreement," he adds.
Comenos of Spotted adds that brands are also able to transfer some of the risk from their organization via "disgrace insurance," which protects the brand in the case of a celebrity scandal, but she notes the payouts on those policies are typically only set at $1 million. "Spotted plans to introduce a new disgrace insurance product later in 2019 that will provide much larger limits — likely starting at $10 million — to provide brands with real coverage for this business risk," she says.
Quantum Sight's Gupta also notes that while a scandal — like the college admissions scheme — may end up forcing a company to pull ads, the public generally doesn't hold the brand responsible, explaining, "Consumers are becoming more forgiving of companies that genuinely did not know about the skeletons in a celebrity endorser's closet. As long as the company makes a quick and vocal exit, they are usually seen as an incidental victim."
Analytics and the Right Brand/Celebrity Fit
If there's one thing social media has accomplished, it's letting the true personalities of celebrities come through for better or worse, Gupta points out.
"Social is a very tricky medium in that it demands authenticity," he says. "A celebrity using it to pitch a product that is not a natural fit with their personality will end up hurting that authenticity and visa-versa for the company."
The biggest lesson marketers are learning is that the celebrity, no matter how popular overall, has to be the right fit for that brand message, which means older broad metrics such as Q Scores aren't all that relevant for advertisers anymore.
"You can have a fantastic Q Score but still be a poor fit for a lot of brands, so we can show a company: 'This is how the public sees this celebrity, and this is how they see your brand,'" says Comenos, whose company can deliver metrics on which stars have momentum, as well as an overall risk score for each and every celebrity. "We can also tell you which celebrity is the most relatable for which type of consumer."
Chown notes brands have to come into this process understanding that there is usually more than one celebrity who can fit their marketing goals. "We can't help but fall in love with a top choice for a particular campaign," he says. "Unfortunately, that top choice isn't always the right fit, could be out of budget, or simply might say 'no' to the opportunity. We advise brands to be comfortable with three or four talent options as this gives us the best leverage to negotiate a proper deal."
Once a celebrity is selected, a mistake Comenos regularly sees brands making is counting on their star power alone to drive the campaign. "Generally speaking, for every dollar you spend on the celebrity and their team, you want to have $8 to $10 in terms of media, to get enough eyeballs on it," she advises.
Finally, Daye of The Blake Project notes that no matter what kind of dollars are involved or which media channels are used, it's ultimately the consumer who decides how valuable a celebrity endorsement is to a brand.
"Successful celebrity endorsements create value by combining the positive associations of the endorser with that of the brand," he says. "The right combinations deliver great value and are measured in sales and awareness."