Good Endorsements Gone Bad: The dangers of aligning your brand with a celebrity
It takes years and patience to build a world-class brand with a huge following. But who has time for that these days? If you’re all out of good marketing ideas, you can just hire somebody famous to be the face of your brand!
Be sure to pick somebody who’s at the top of their game. Somebody with a zillion followers on Twitter or Instagram. Tiger Woods, maybe, or Lance Armstrong. Or Olympic champions – they’re a sure-fire bet, right?
Even better if they’re the feel-good story of the moment. South African amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius captured the hearts of millions by moving from Paralympic competition (where he’d won three consecutive gold medals) to competing in the 2012 London Olympics, the first double-leg amputee to qualify for the biggest running competition in the world.
It was a great story, and Nike jumped on board with an ad campaign featuring several athletes with a voiceover that spoke of athletes’ bodies being their weapons. A print advertisement featuring Pistorius read “I am the bullet in the chamber.” The next year, in 2013, Pistorius was charged and later convicted of murdering his girlfriend with a 9MM pistol. Oh, the irony!
Nike has been bitten by celebrity endorsements before; past ads have featured Lance Armstrong (doping), Michael Vick (dogfighting), and Tiger Woods (caught cheating on his wife multiple times), and trust us, the list goes on from here.
It doesn’t matter if you have the most wholesome product in the world – you can still fall prey to bad celebrity endorsements. The “Got Milk?” campaign (you know the one, famous people with cute milk mustaches over their lips) dropped R&B performer Chris Brown in 2009 after he pleaded guilty to violently assaulting his former girlfriend Rihanna. Not a good look for the moo.
One essential feature of celebrity brand endorsements is that they appear genuine. No one wants to see the marketing hacks making sausage behind the scenes. So if you find a celebrity willing to spontaneously declare her love for your brand online, take the time to teach them the basic skills of cut and paste.
Here’s the caption that went with model Naomi Campbell’s Instagram post showing off her new pair of Adidas: “Naomi, So nice to see you in good spirits!!! Could you put something like: Thanks to my friend @gary.aspden and all at adidas – loving these adidas 350 SPZL from the adidas Spezial range. ✊ @adidasoriginals.”
Cut and paste fail, Naomi!
Lori Loughlin of Full House and Hallmark Channel fame and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli plead guilty to bribery charges in a widely- publicized college admissions scandal in 2019. Loughlin and Giannulli paid $500,000 to have their daughters gain admission to USC as members of the rowing team, a sport which neither girl had ever participated in.
Loughlin’s daughter Olivia Jade had a promising and lucrative career as an online influencer, working with brands Dolce & Gabbana, Marc Jacobs, Sephora, and Amazon. Most dropped her like a hot potato after the cheating scandal became public, even though her mother was the culprit. (Loughlin lost her Hallmark Channel gig as well.) It’s good to remember that celebrities also have families who can do bad all by themselves.
Finally, if your brand invests in sponsorship, please ask the celebrities connected with it to play along. Soccer megastar Cristiano Ronaldo of Team Portugal cost Coca-Cola about $4 billion in market value after a Euro 2020 tournament press conference. Coca-Cola had a sponsorship agreement with the Union of European Football Associations, and the league had placed two bottles of the soft drink prominently at the podium in front of Ronaldo in a classic product placement move. Unfortunately, Ronaldo believes in healthy living and a clean diet. He looked visibly distressed by the bottles, giving them the stink eye before moving them out of the camera frame and holding up a bottle of water. He held the water bottle up and said in Portuguese: [Drink] “Water!”
Coca-Cola’s share price dropped by 1.6% to $55.22 soon after the press conference. The market value went from $242 billion to $238 billion — an expensive lesson in how celebrity endorsements will always be, a double-edged sword.
The practice of celebrity endorsements will continue for brands, and most of the time, the relationship will evolve just fine. However, understand that people have a bad habit of behaving badly in inopportune times. If your brand is caught in the middle of a public relations disaster, it could get ugly.
You’ve been warned.