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What is Celebrity Advertising?

Updated on February 22, 2015
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, advertising and public relations.

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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

Learn about Internet Advertising and Marketing

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

Celebrity Endorsements

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

Celebrity Sponsorship

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

Product Placement

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 (*snickers*).

BMW in James Bond Movie "Tomorrow Never Dies"

Lance Armstrong Before...

... Lance Armstrong After.

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!

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.

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.

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?

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

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, as seen in this ad from the 1980s:


Lee Iacocca in 1982 LeBaron Commercial

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 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. 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.

Disclaimer: Any examples used are for illustrative purposes only and do not suggest affiliation or endorsement. The author/publisher has used best efforts in preparation of this article. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and all parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice, strategies and recommendations presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional adviser where and when appropriate. The author/publisher shall not be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. So by reading and using this information, you accept this risk.

© 2013 Heidi Thorne

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Unbelievable the amount of money spent for one ad. I was going to ask if it is successful using celebrities, but then I caught myself and realized that just because celebrities don't interest me does not mean that the rest of the nation isn't impressed....and they are!

      Nice job, Heidi.

      Have a wonderful Wednesday my friend.

      bill

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

      Good evening, billybuc! The sums that some celebs pull in are astronomical. Many of them make more on the sponsorships and appearances in ads than they do on their craft or sport! My personal feeling is that there are some significant risks and costs on all sides of the celebrity advertising equation making it an investment to be very carefully considered. Happy Wednesday to you, too!

    • profile image

      mjkearn 4 years ago

      Hi Heidi

      WOW what a read. Found this riveting and thoroughly enjoyed. Some great points about do celebrities actually use the advertised products and should they pay back monies if they fall into disgrace.

      Voted up and have a great day.

      MJ.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

      Howdy, mjkearn! Thanks for stopping by and kind comments. Using celebrities for advertising is a very complex issue in the marketing arena making it almost a completely separate discipline. Glad there are lawyers to sort it all out for celebs and the advertisers.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hey Everyone, just added a link to this hub to a Wall Street Journal article that discusses a new insurance product sponsors can buy to protect their companies from problems with spokespeople. Interesting development, eh?

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      I love the current Marilyn/Chanel ads--often these kinds of ads are quite memorable!

    • georgescifo profile image

      georgescifo 2 years ago from India

      celebrity advertising has been there for a long time and it is very much expensive. But if your business returns are worth it, then there is no issue in advertising with celebrities.

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 2 years ago from USA

      Hi Heidi! This is a really thought-provoking hub. I was of course aware of celebrity endorsements, but really think about all the various types that I see every day. You share some great examples and an interesting discussion about what this means both for the celebrity and the company.

      I'm sure there have been times when the company does something that brings bad publicity and the celebrity distances themselves from the situation, but I can't think of any. Can you?

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Audrey! Yes, it is as classic as she was. Indeed they are memorable, especially if the tie-in between the celeb and the product or company is a good fit. Thanks for stopping by and Happy Weekend!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi georgescifo! It is EXPENSIVE (worthy of all capital letters). And, you're right, if it bring the business you want and it fits the budget, it is worth it. Have a great weekend!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi purl3agony! Indeed it can be a delicate PR dance for both celebs and the companies that hire them. I can see celebs wanting to purchase that endorsement insurance, too. Now that you mention it, I'm trying to think of a reverse example. The only one I can think immediately is for an arthritis drug which was celebrity endorsed and then it was found to cause health issues. If I was a celeb, I'd steer clear of any pharma endorsements. Just sayin'. Thanks for the additional angle. If I do find additional examples, I'll update the hub. Have a great weekend!

    • LadyFiddler profile image

      Joanna Chandler 2 years ago from On planet Earth

      Interesting mhmmm very!

      Thanks for sharing this hub with us

      ~~ A beautiful to U and urs :) ~~

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hello LadyFiddler! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Happy Weekend!

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