Weighing The Cost Of Fame

Andy Warhol, painter of Campbell’s Soup cans, was celebrated for democratizing fame; his most well-known quote is “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” But through his art and his life, he managed to bend the culture into a cult of celebrity that has fueled marketing campaigns for over 70 years. Has that arc played itself out? Has fame had its 15 minutes? Are celebrities still relevant to brand identities in the age of Facebook? 

Why would brands eschew the use of celebrities, when, by definition, their recognition factor is high? Because, in addition to recognition, celebrities carry liabilities. In some cases, the celebrity is hot, but the connection to the brand is tenuous, and not organic enough to engage brand-loyalists. In other cases, the celebrity’s credibility is diluted by being associated with multiple brands. And of course, there is always the possibility of a high-profile flameout (DUI, domestic violence, drugs), blackening your brand and leaving your last six months’ work in ashes. Finally, there’s cost. Celebrities are famous, but they’re not cheap. 



Although the beauty and fashion industries have been exploring the use of real people in advertising for over a decade (Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign launched in 2004), the weight-loss industry has been slower to adapt. Comparing marketing strategies among different weight-loss brands reveals some shifts in the way celebrities are being used. 

Nutrisystem’s “Fast 5 +” campaign, firmly in the pro-celebrity camp, uses names like Marie Osmond and Melissa Joan Hart, and Dan Marino to help them market to men. The celebrity “ambassadors” also are featured in several new videos on the brand’s YouTube channel.

Jenny Craig has reintroduced Kirstie Alley as their spokesperson, with a new ad featuring Alley as a fairy godmother who helps a woman get started on her weight loss journey. But Jenny Craig is hedging their bet by simultaneously launching a new campaign, "The Moment," highlighting real member successes.

Of the four major players, Medifast has been the most vocal about avoiding the use of celebrities in their marketing efforts, as exemplified in their “Your Whole World Gets Better” campaign, which highlights a positive tone, real people, and real results. The campaign is a combination of Medifast success stories against the backdrop of everyday life activities to illustrate the positive impact achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can have on all aspects of your life. A digital effort complements the commercials with banner ads, new website design and social media where they encourage the use of the hashtag #worldgetsbetter.

Although Weight Watchers has long used celebrities like 2010 spokesperson Jennifer Hudson, their 2015 Super Bowl ad took a different approach, using social commentary and satire to communicate the challenges of weight loss, and was generally well received.  But their “If You’re Happy and You Know It” campaign got some negative blowback, with the Huffington Post calling them out for “demeaning and shaming the very people it is trying to help.” 

 Celebrity spokespeople for weight-loss products can have a similar effect. You look at this person and you don’t say, “I can do that, too.” You want to, but you know that you can’t do that. Motivation is where social media has the potential to change the game. Today, people who want to lose weight not only have tools like FitBit to fine-tune their exercise regimens and apps like Apple Health to measure calorie intake and other health metrics, they also can use social media platforms to share about their weight loss and leverage the power of social connections to motivate themselves, whether by reminders, competitions or ego-boosting digital “attaboys.” 

Is celebrity a done deal? Probably not. Beautiful people will always be in demand to raise brands’ profiles. But the increase in alternative engagements, and focus on real consumers, is part and parcel of a movement toward user-generated content in every sphere of entertainment, where Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are focusing attention on The Rest of Us. From weight loss to Campbell's Soup, brands are aware that the internet is minting new superstars every day. Actually, every 15 minutes.

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