If marketers have learned one lesson from the recent furor surrounding Pepsi and rapper Ludacris, it’s that choosing a spokesperson to market a brand is a step not to be taken lightly. Ludacris was an obvious choice to appeal to young urban consumers, but Pepsi got flak — initiated by conservative Fox News Channel commentator Bill O’Reilly — for using an artist whose music contains lyrics that some consumers find offensive. To avoid putting off its general consumer base, Pepsi pulled the Ludacris spots and dissolved the partnership with the rapper.
Challenges of Using Star
While celebrity spokespeople can bring considerable awareness to a brand or product, there is always the potential for pitfalls. Knowing a celebrity’s background is key because his or her activities outside the campaign can have an impact on a brand.
Reebok’s Brian Povinelli acknowledges that there’s always a risk when dealing with sports and entertainment figures. But for Reebok that risk may just be the edge the company needs to appeal to the young urban market. Allen Iverson’s bad-boy image probably adds street credibility to the brand. Despite Iverson’s legal troubles, Povinelli says Reebok hasn’t received any negative feedback about his association with the brand. The fact that Iverson signed a lifetime agreement with Reebok two years ago may be an indication that Reebok sees considerable value in the player’s less-than-perfect image.
Verizon Wireless does extensive research on all the people included in its advertising, whether they are celebrities or not. The company says it was aware that the full-length version of Tweet’s “Call Me” contained some racy lyrics, but it didn’t feel there was anything within the portion of the song used in its Free Up ad that would offend consumers.
But sometimes no amount of research can eliminate the potential for controversy, as was made evident by Pepsi’s partnership with Ludacris. Pepsi’s Bart Casabona tells Marketing to the Emerging Majorities, “We had done some research but we didn’t gauge how our involvement with the rapper would be perceived by our consumers....
If any ad becomes controversial, that’s when we have to move on.”Casabona says pulling the Ludacris ad doesn’t change the company’s commitment to multicultural marketing. (Pepsi has nixed potentially offensive ads in the past, including a 1989 general market spot featuring Madonna.) The company developed a targeted television spot featuring a hip-hop song by DJ Kool that pays homage to a variety of dances popular in black communities across the country.
Using celebrity spokespeople can be an excellent way to heighten brand awareness and break through advertising clutter. However, no celebrity campaign offers guaranteed success. Marketers must be prepared to deal with possible negative consequences in a manner that won’t jeopardize the delicate relationship between brand and consumer.