Brands Still Look To Celebs--With Wary Eye

Chris Brown in Wrigley ad spotAlex Rodriguez. Michael Phelps. Chris Brown. This past week was a particularly bad one for celebrities--and by extension, the products they endorse. But don't look for celebrity endorsers to disappear anytime soon. For all the inherent dangers in celebrity endorsers, there's still a lot of value.

"I don't think we'll ever move definitively away from celebrity endorsers," David Reeder, vice president of GreenLight, L.A., tells Marketing Daily. "They're powerful in the way they draw consumers to a brand. [But] brands will have to be more circumspect with the choices they make."

Indeed, Reeder's company measured advertising during the Grammy Awards and discovered that only 7% of the television spots that aired during the broadcast featured celebrity endorsements--down from 13% in 2008 and 21% in 2007.



"What we've found is the inquiries and interest we've gotten for clients has been limited to a tried-and-true pool of names," Reeder says (think A-listers--and infrequent endorsers--such as George Clooney and Nicole Kidman. "They have established themselves in the public eye, are relatively scandal-free and have proven to be able to handle themselves in public."

Within the past couple of weeks, two of the high-profile celebrity missteps have resulted in lost marketing power. Michael Phelps, who was photographed smoking marijuana at a party, was dropped by Kellogg Co. as an endorser of Frosted Flakes after the photos surfaced. And the Wm. Wrigley Co. pulled ads for its Doublemint gum featuring singer Chris Brown after he was arrested for assault.

"Every year, over the past 10 years, there are a handful of celebrities who are caught misbehaving in public and lose their endorsements. I don't think it means brands are going to stop using them," Reeder says. "[But given] this stuff and the current economic crisis, they are going to think twice about it."

Some marketers are taking a more subtle approach. Rather than enlisting celebrities as endorsers, they are getting them to work behind the scenes or have up-and-comers be less visible, just in case, Reeder says. "What brands are doing is trying to control the content associated with their brands [by using] a go-to guy--a relatively obscure person to the general public.

"People's fascination with celebrities isn't going away. The use of celebrities is here to stay," he says. "But in what form is the open question."

2 comments about "Brands Still Look To Celebs--With Wary Eye ".
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  1. Fred Leo from Ad Giants, February 16, 2009 at 9:30 a.m.

    I notice more and more spots using unidentified celebrity voiceovers, which sort of splits the difference, like students who dot an "e" when unsure of the spelling. There's can be an element of familiarity but less attachment to personality. I think there there's some justification for on-camera celeb spots, especially aspirational effortts. But I do think a lot of celeb endorsements are utterly wasted, some even counter-productive. O agree with Michael that it's far beter to offer something so good it gets people talking.

  2. Susan Von Seggern from SvS PR, February 16, 2009 at 1:56 p.m.

    Another solution is creating your own celebs or brand characters, the CEO as celeb like Dave Thomas or Richard Branson, they won't embarrass, ask for a raise or use a competing product in public! Alternately in this age of branded entertainment one could create a star in a show they own and lock the star in, Disney, MTV and American Idol do this all the time but other less clear entertainment brands have tried it too. There is always the virtual spokesperson - who doesn't love that cute eSurance girl?

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