Don’t Let Celebrities Build Your Brand for You

Let’s stop for a minute to consider the “joys” of having a celebrity spokesperson. Tiger Woods may be the most recent celebrity spokesperson to explode in a client’s face, but he’s not the first. And he won’t be the last. Remember that when you think about how great it would be to hitch your brand’s wagon to the next big thing. He won’t be the last. CELEBRITY SLACKERS Recently, the fashion house of St. John replaced Angelina Jolie as the face of its brand. Another scandal? Not at all. They came to understand that her celebrity completely overshadowed their identity. Not to mention the fact that she apparently was not wearing the brand quite as exclusively as they had expected. In fact, there have been numerous incidents throughout advertising history when celebrity spokespeople were caught not living up to the terms of their agreements, or using or wearing a competitor’s brand. And that risk of getting caught has grown exponentially in today’s world of cell phone cameras and the 24-hour news cycle. BRAND LOYALTY Another problem involves the question of how much of your brand resides in the spokesperson, especially when the spokesperson in question is representing multiple brands. As has been reported throughout the media, Tiger Woods was the first athlete to earn a billion dollars, mostly through multiple sponsorships. In addition to the often-mentioned Nike, Accenture and Gillette, he represented AT&T, Electronic Arts, Tag Heuer, Buick, Pepsi (Gatorade), NetJets, TLC Laser Eye Centers and the PGA Tour. It seems highly likely that his very ubiquity diluted his impact on each of those brands long before the scandal broke. Another athlete who enjoys the benefits of multiple sponsorships is Lance Armstrong. In addition to his foundation, LIVESTRONG, dedicated to fighting cancer, Armstrong has sponsorship deals with eight companies, ranging from energy drinks to sunglasses to, of course, bikes. His ads for the FRS Energy Drink are all over the Internet. But can you name any of the others? All of these provide lucrative opportunities for the celebrity, but how about the brands he represents? What are the benefits for Accenture when their ads featuring Tiger show him wearing his Nike cap? GLAM FACTOR Hiring a star sounds glamorous. You might even convince yourself it sounds smart—what better way to attain instant visibility and recognition than by being associated with someone famous? They’ve done all the heavy lifting for you. And that’s why I’ve never thought it was a good idea. To be blunt, I think that—99% of the time—it’s a bad idea to build your brand on someone else’s personality. What’s more, it’s lazy. But if you’re considering hiring a celebrity spokesperson, ask yourself the following questions: • Will the spokesperson convey your brand authentically and truthfully? Authenticity usually comes from within, not from the borrowed interest garnered by the use of a famous face. • Will you be prepared for a crisis situation that, in this day and age, is almost certain to happen? No matter how perfect and spotless his or her reputation appears to be, stars screw up, or they can get sick and die. • Knowing your organization’s brand and values inside out, would you be better off doing the heavy brand lifting yourself? SOME SUCCESSES If it’s such an overwhelmingly bad idea, why do so many companies go that route? Aren’t there any successes? Of course there are. William Shatner’s goofy presence as The Negotiator provides with strong brand recognition. Michael Jordan and Nike were such a perfect match they created the Air Jordan for him. I would argue, however, that in both those cases, the brand selected a famous person and utilized him in a way that reinforced its existing personality. It may be that charities and not-for-profits offer the best success stories involving famous spokespeople. With minimal budgets and maximum needs, using a celebrity to call attention to a worthy cause may be one of the most effective ways to increase donations. It may surprise you to learn who has been the most effective spokesperson for charities. While Angelina Jolie may be one of the most recognized for her work on behalf of the United Nations Refugee Agency, Justin Timberlake was in fact the top performer, raising $9 million for the Shriners Hospitals for Children. Which brings me back to my previously stated conviction: Hiring a celebrity spokesperson is no sure thing. PRN CONTACT: Sophie Ann Terrisse is founder and CEO of STC Associates, Inc in New York. She can be reached at

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