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Branding / 5 September 2017

Celebrity and Branding

Is celebrity a quick fix for brands?

Celebrity endorsement is a commonly used marketing tactics around the world. In China, it is not a surprise that you will see ads showing, for example, a sports star wearing tuxedo selling cooking pans. It can be quite bizarre at the first glance but then it may well be the campaign that helps to boost the sales of the product. So is celebrity a guaranteed winning formula for brands?

A study shows that in every three ads, there is at least one ad using some kind of celebrity. They can be pop stars, musicians, sports stars, actors or actresses, fashion models, news anchors, corporate leaders or even politicians, not to mention the increasingly popular buzz word of KOL.


Celebrity helps to achieve market cut through

In an increasingly compressed market with shortened product life cycle, manufacturers are not only competing with other brands; they are competing with time as well.

Celebrity can help to grab an audience’s attention and may help to achieve the market awareness faster. To find a celebrity with good skin as its spokesperson is almost a prerequisite for any new skincare brand entering the market.


Celebrity adds credibility

Consumers have their own way of decoding marketing message. If a brand can afford to use superstars, it must therefore be a big brand and is probably more trustworthy. This helps to reduce the psychological risk of using this brand in front of peers as it has already received the endorsement of the celebrity.


Celebrity enhances the entertainment value

No consumers like boring communications. They like to be amused and entertained.

This is especially true in social media when a commercial message is regarded as a disruption to the consumption of the preferred content. Celebrity is able to gain the permission from the audience and it may provide a stronger reason why the audience should even bother paying attention to the brand message.


Celebrity strengthens the brand personality

What makes a brand different and attractive is its personality. If the right celebrity is chosen, a positive association can be achieved and the band message will be more positively retained by the audience, according to “match-up” hypothesis advocated by Kahle and Homer (1985).

Obviously, there are always two sides of a coin. There are apparent advantages of using celebrities as stated above but there is also baggage’s or even danger of associating the brand with celebrity:


 Celebrity costs money

The more popular the celebrity, the more expensive to engage him or her. If brands start to trade down and use less well-known figures, then it almost defeats the purpose of adopting the celebrity endorsement approach. In some cases, the brand-owners themselves are not so sure about the celebrities to the extent that they even spell out the names of the celebrities in their communications. Even for those corporates which may have a deep pocket, will the money actually be better spent elsewhere?


Celebrity can be a defector

Is the celebrity really, genuinely fond of your brand or is the celebrity endorsing your brand purely because of the contract? One famous case study is the Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho openly consumed a can of Pepsi at a press conference when he was hired by Coca Cola to be the spokesperson during that period.



Celebrity can get out of hand

The brand-owner has no control over the personal life of the celebrity and things can get out of hand some time including misbehavior, scandal or even involvement in extreme ideological movement.

The incidence of outspoken singer Denise Ho caused considerable headaches to the French cosmetics brand in Hong Kong in 2016 which may still have some ripple effects up to now.


But this is nothing as compared to the disastrous comment made by Sharon Stone during her interview about the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 when she referred the tens of thousands of casualties as “karma”.

If Dior had not immediately ended its relationship with Sharon Stone who was the brand’s endorser at that time, it is almost certain that the brand would have been kicked out from China by the consumers.


Celebrity endorsing multiple brands

Unless the brand has an exclusive contract preempting the celebrity from engaging with brands of the other categories, the same celebrity can be endorsing other brands at the same time with different emotional values and perhaps sending conflicting messages to the market.


David Ogilvy summarized it well: saying that the price of using celebrity is “Viewers have a way of remembering the celebrity but forgetting the product”. To further investigate how to manage this double-edged sword, please watch out for our next article on celebrity and branding titled “Learning From the Masters to Master Celebrities” which will thoroughly examine how brands like Rolex and Nike can continue to lead the game of celebrity endorsement.



Royce Yuen



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