Recently, Dutch brand Philips, amid much fanfare at the IFA trade show in Berlin, launched its latest HomeCooker product with the aid of a big name. Consumer Lifestyle CEO Pieter Nota stood proudly on stage next to an equally beaming Jamie Oliver, and the pair cut the proverbial cake to the flutter of camera flash bulbs.
Philips has dabbled in celebrity marketing over the years, but generally tends to prefer to let its brand and heritage do the talking. For other brands and industries (fragrance, for example), celebrity marketing is a business model in and of itself, without which the product would surely fall flat, or at least never have the sales impact that a big name can guarantee.
It’s all with good reason – stories abound at how if Oprah merely breathed over your latest novel, it would become a New York Times bestseller. In our (still) celebrity-obsessed culture, big name smiles trump all, or so it seems.
Stories abound at how if Oprah merely breathed over your latest novel, it would become a New York Times bestseller
I’ve been involved in several briefs which have called for a celebrity endorsement strategy, which I’ve not always recommended. It may not always be a sound strategic decision to use a celebrity as part of a wider campaign strategy.
Nevertheless, the process of selecting a ‘star’ is quite amusing. Typically agencies will propose a series of researched names, which is then presented to the client for debate. Regardless of who the person behind the star image is, discussions usually centre around a series of adjectives used to describe that person, the image they have and the emotions they may conjure in the public mind: Jamie Oliver, for instance, might be described as ‘trustworthy,’ ‘likeable,’ ‘reassuring,’ and appealing to a certain female demographic – a perfect match for our new HomeCooker product! It’s not exactly the intimate partnership the marketing would have you believe.
These days, contracting a celebrity to put their name, reputation – and smile – to your latest launch is big business. At best, it’s a short-hand way of getting some glamour, credibility and attention to a launch, and at worst, it’s a tactic to cover up a poor product offer. Increasingly though, celebrity endorsement is a thin proposition. Although our culture still idolises celebrity, they’ve been commoditised to the hilt and consequently no longer occupy such a hallowed place. In short, we’ve grown weary; we know how the industry works.
These days, contracting a celebrity to put their name, reputation – and smile – to your latest launch is big business
How intimately involved, for instance, was Paris Hilton in the development of her numerous fragrances, other than presumably smelling a series of proposed scents before saying ‘I like that one’? Similarly, I wonder how much a part of the product development process Jamie was at Philips, despite the fact that the product marketing eagerly touts his involvement.
In the majority of celebrity product endorsements, their involvement is highly disconnected – contractual in nature and usually part of the marketing process only. Ultimately, celebrity/brand partnerships are short-hand, short-term solutions designed to create noise and cash-flow. In this troubled economy, that’s what many struggling brands need and so it makes good business sense.
But I’d like to argue for a longer-term approach to this strategy, one that advocates for sense and genuine meaning over flash in the pan, as it were. Unless they really are intimately connected to the brand (Bjorn Borg, for instance) celebrities can take away from brand equity in the long-term. This is not only because shoppers are aware of the machinations of celebrity marketing, but because for products and brands to prosper, they need to be culturally grounded in the tangible, with authentic story and narrative, rather than glossy campaigns in which celebrities extol their ‘love’ for product X.