What is Celebrity Advertising?
Celebrity advertising is the use of a celebrity's image or endorsement in advertisements. The goal of doing so is to associate the positive attributes and fame of the celebrity with what is being promoted. On the surface that sounds like a easy way to help build a successful brand. However, it can also destroy a brand in short order.
What follows is a review of the various types of celebrity advertising that can be used, along with tips for using it successfully.
The following is a commercial from one of the most famous celebrity advertising contracts ever done. Back in 1983, the "King of Pop" Michael Jackson received a $5 million contract to promote the brand. The relationship continued for about a decade and included integration with Jackson's concert work over the years. However, it also drew criticism since it was rumored that Jackson did not drink Pepsi.
Michael Jackson 1980s Pepsi Commercial
Advertising Featuring Celebrities
Advertising that features a celebrity, similar to the famous Michael Jackson Pepsi ads, is using a celebrity's image to create a connection with a target marketing demographic. So advertisers should use care in hiring a celebrity that the intended audience will readily recognize and with whom they can relate or who is an aspirational role model.
The ad may or may not show the star using or talking about the product or service. As with the Jackson ad campaign, it featured him singing and dancing, but not guzzling Pepsi. Pepsi merely wanted to connect with Jackson's huge worldwide following.
In contrast, sports drink Gatorade has featured many athletes over the decades and they are definitely shown chugging the drink in ads and during games.
In this next Chanel commercial featuring actress Nicole Kidman, there is only the mention of the product name. Absolutely no showing the product or a product being used. It's meant to just associate the beauty of the Chanel and Chanel No. 5 brands with the beautiful Nicole Kidman.
Chanel No. 5 Ad with Nicole Kidman
Ads that feature celebrities endorsing a product or service take this advertising strategy to another level. Unlike some of the campaigns which just feature the image of a celebrity, in these ads, the star is actually stating they use the product or service. This can help encourage the target audience to try the advertiser's offering.
Phil Mickelson Win Ad for RAZR Fit Xtreme Driver
Particularly in the sports arena, sponsorship of star athletes is extremely common. In these contracts, the advertiser pays for things such as celebrities' expenses in exchange for them sporting the advertiser's logos or products when they make appearances or while they are performing.
NASCAR and Indy driver Danica Patrick has been sponsored by domain name registrar and hosting company, GoDaddy.com, as is obvious in this video.
NASCAR and Indy Driver Danica Patrick Sponsored by GoDaddy.com
Seeing a movie star using a brand name product or service in a movie is not an accident. Product placements in a movie or television show can be a subtle (or sometimes not so subtle!) way to get advertising inside the entertainment itself with celebrities and characters using the branded products.
Who wouldn't want a BMW like James Bond? Note, the remote driving mobile device in this clip is not a currently available BMW option. But with self-driving cars on the horizon, who knows if it will be in the future? We'll have to wait and see.
BMW in James Bond Movie "Tomorrow Never Dies"
Corporate Celebrities in Advertising
Sometimes corporate leaders or other staff can become celebrities and are featured in the company's advertising. They essentially become the face of the brand and the business. While this can be quite successful in ad campaigns because it humanizes a business, it can also lead to trouble if the pitchman resigns, is fired, dies or the company wants to change its image.
If a corporate celebrity dies, a deal will have to be made with the deceased's estate for the continued use of the person's name, image, video and audio. If, however, the featured celebrity resigns or is fired, use of the person's image going forward needs to be stipulated in any termination package.
Regardless of the way a corporate celebrity's tenure as pitchman for the company ends, the person's appearance and involvement in advertising, and how that involvement willl end, should be addressed in employment contracts or as a separate contract. Consult a legal professional experienced in employment and entertainment law when making these agreements.
A CEO that became a famous pitchman for his company was Lee Iacocca of Chrysler who was featured in ads during the 1980s.
Advertising that Gains Celebrity Status
Sometimes the pitchmen (or characters) in advertising gain celebrity status themselves. Their influence can expand beyond the advertising into other branded entertainment, appearances or efforts.
Once such example was the popular GEICO Cavemen. A television sitcom was built around the Cavemen characters (Wikipedia) featured in the insurance company's ads. It was a contrived concept, but shows how advertising can create a celebrity of its own.
Another example is restaurant McDonald's Ronald McDonald (Wikipedia). The character has expanded beyond just a mascot and brand character into the branded Ronald McDonald House Charities that provides housing for families of sick children.
Social Media Influencers as Celebrities
As social media has matured, a new type of celebrity has emerged that advertisers want: Influencers.
While influencers could be real celebrities from television, movies, and online, they could also be just regular people who have built a large and/or engaged fan base on the likes of Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, etc.
The appeal of real people social media influencers for advertising is that they can be seen as more authentic than regular celebrities. People are usually aware that big name celebrities are paid for shilling products and services. But if it’s a regular person, any endorsement might be seen as being more genuine. What many people don’t realize is that real people influencers are also often paid in free products, affiliate commissions, perks, or straight up cash for featuring a sponsor’s offerings.
Now government agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States, are stepping up enforcement for greater transparency for influencers. Disclosure is now required for any payment in cash or in kind for the promotion of a sponsor’s products and services. Even though the responsibility to disclose is primarily the responsibility of the influencer, sponsoring advertisers would be well advised to monitor their influencers’ activities for compliance.
There are more logistic challenges with influencer celebrities, too. Advertisers need to do research to find the most relevant influencers. They often enlist the help of marketing agencies or services dedicated to influencer marketing. The cost to use influencers can vary wildly. As well, the cost can quickly go up if demand for desired influencers increases significantly. This is much harder to budget and control than standard media ads that feature genuine celebrities.
What About Dead Celebrities?
Marilyn Monroe. Einstein. Elvis. All iconic figures whose popularity continues well beyond their passing, sometimes even growing after they are gone. Advertisers often want to associate with these popular characters by using their images, video or audio clips. While an appearance contract cannot be drawn up between the advertiser and the celebrity, usually the estates of those deceased icons contract with advertisers for this use.
The problem comes in when the advertising may tarnish the image of the now dead celebrity or may be disrespectful. Only the estate of the celebrity can make that decision. But will they make a decision that's in the best interest of the deceased?
- Click Here for an excellent discussion of the issue by Ron Elfran: Audrey Hepburn Resurrected for New TV Commercial: Is This a Good Thing?
Below is another commercial from fashion design and fragrance company Chanel featuring Marilyn Monroe who was long associated with the fragrance Chanel No. 5. While the details of this use are unknown, it it is in keeping with a brand that she promoted in life.
Marilyn and No. 5 - Inside Chanel
Challenges for Advertisers
One of the riskiest factors of using celebrity advertising for advertisers is if the star loses favor, or even becomes disgraced, in the public eye. This can have a negative effect on the brand name. So when a negative incident occurs with a sponsored or hired celebrity, advertisers will either seek to distance themselves from the star or they may even rush to the star's aid if they feel the charges are unjustified.
Today, advertiser contracts with celebrities may include clauses stipulating what may happen if conduct standards are not maintained. Some may even include morals clauses. Actions could include breaking the contract or even seeking damages. Today, there's even insurance protection that sponsors can purchase!
- Read New Type of Insurance Protects Firms from Troublesome Spokespeople from the Wall Street Journal (January 29, 2015)
One of the most dramatic cases in recent history was that of superstar cyclist Lance Armstrong after it was discovered that he could have been using performance enhancing substances. Some of his sponsors made noise about wanting their money back. However, during the time that they were sponsoring him, they benefitted from his positive image.
Lance Armstrong Before...
... Lance Armstrong After.
Challenges for Celebrities
On the flip side of the equation, celebrities also accept some risk if their sponsoring advertisers fall into disrepute. If they endorsed a product that eventually is found to be harmful or manufactured in deplorable conditions, they will take some public relations heat.
One such case, which is not unique, is when celebrities are cited for products produced in sweatshops that bear their names.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2013 Heidi Thorne