Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Fragile State of Celebrity Endorsements

Marketing professionals should be taking note of just how fragile the celebrity endorsement strategy can be. Sure, defenders of celebrity endorsement will always be quick to remind the world what Michael Jordan did for Nike, but more and more, Nike is looking like the exception and not the rule and marketers should be skeptical of the practice.

Lebron James provides all the evidence one would need. Last night, James made his return to Cleveland to play the team he so publicly abandoned over the summer. Instantly, his public persona changed; transforming from a fun-loving, freakishly talented basketball player to egomaniac villain with a propensity for quitting. People questioned his integrity, wondering how long he knew about the move and why didn't he tell his former teammates. Consequently, as Mr. James' public persona was altered, so were the attitudes towards the brands he represents. Suddenly, the greatness he once personified could no longer be magically reflected upon vitamin-laced waters or auto insurers. What about that deep connection between the celebrity and the brand represented? If it can be replaced that easily, shouldn't one question its real value in the first place?

Furthermore, the Kardashian sisters recently demonstrated how little of a connection can exist between celebrities and the brands they represent. With negativity swirling about the "predatory" fees tied to the Kardashian-branded prepaid MasterCard debit card, the sisters swiftly dumped their partner, the University National Bank of Minnesota. While the Kardashians mostly walk away unscathed and their teen-friendly image intact, a reasonable adult should be able to draw the line at  shameless self-promotion. A bit like Donald Trump, is there anything they won't put their name on?  If so, what value does it really have?

Clearly, a celebrity-based marketing strategy is fragile at best. If the human qualities of an endorser can be positively transferred to a brand, the fact that a pitchman can be replaced at a moment's notice when things go haywire, is a sign of the real connection between them.

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo Media's Beneath the Brand.

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