"I don't think we'll ever move definitively away from celebrity endorsers," says David Reeder, vice president of GreenLight, L.A. "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."