Celebrities in advertising is nothing new. In the early 1900s Mark Twain had co-branded pens, and the baseball player Ty Cobb had his own Tobacco. I know, an athlete with his own tobacco made me chuckle as well. This has continued all the way through the century into the modern day, which made me think, if it has lasted this long how effective can it really be, and is it worth it? That’s what I’m going to tackle today.
One of the biggest challenges in business, that’s only got harder with time, is breaking through the noise and making the audience listen. It could require an exceptional media spend, fantastic creative, incredible strategy or all three, but a pretty effective way to do it is through using celebrities. Using a celebrity in your ads can do several things for your brand, they can help you cut through the noise and increase credibility and brand recall.
Not only that but there is a lot of evidence that they do directly impact sales, for example Michael Jordan advertised a lot of brands such as Nike, Coke, McDonald's, Hanes and Gatorade. His involvement has been calculated to have contributed around $10 billion to the US economy during the 14 year NBA career according to Fortune magazine. Also according to Social Media Week signing a celebrity endorsement can cause stock prices to rise and sales to increase by around 4 %.
While using celebrities in your advertising can be very effective it’s not all sunshine and rainbows as there are downsides and risks. One of which is that sometimes they’re suggested to brands by agencies when they either don’t have any better ideas or they just want to take a shortcut. Not only that but when a brand does take on a celebrity as either a spokesperson or a brand ambassador they become integrated into your brand, which means if they have any scandal or PR controversies it means your brand could suffer and receive negative attention as a result. A prime example of this was Tiger Woods in 2009, when rumours of his infidelity were happening brands started to let him go as a sponsor to avoid the backlash from consumers. Nike didn’t immediately release him as a sponsor and is said to have lost customers as a result.
Not only that but they can be really expensive, and in advertising of any scale you’ve got to make sure you’re getting the most out of what you spend. While it has benefits, spending your entire marketing budget on one celebrity endorsement isn't a great plan. Did you know that in 2002 Pepsi signed with Beyonce for a 10-year endorsement contract for 50 million dollars. That’s more money than some brands will spend in their lifetime, but clearly Pepsi did the maths and thought it was worth it.
Obviously there are arguments for both sides but whatever your opinion is it is getting more popular. According to studies in the early 2000s around a quarter of US ads featured celebrities and a fifth of UK ads featured them. Ad Age published an article last year all about how using celebrities in advertising was actually getting more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. They raise an interesting point that in 2020 Travis Scott was the first celebrity to have a menu item named after him since Michael Jordan in 1992. In their article they cite Doug Shabelman, the CEO and partner at Burns Entertainment as saying:
“A lot of celebrities are home, they are not doing productions of big movies and they also want to be paid, and to remain relevant.”
I think it’s really interesting from a creative point of view that ideas could be conceptualised and pitched with a much higher chance of being made during the pandemic than before.
In conclusion I think celebrities absolutely have their place in advertising and the pros outweigh the cons. Obviously there are exceptions and a lot of thought needs to go in before moving ahead but I think under the right circumstances it can be really effective and entertaining. That being said I think simply getting a celebrity on board is no excuse to ditch good strategy and creativity. I think a brand should use a celebrity in a thoughtful way and not have them in the ad just for the sake of it.