This is a guest contribution by Jovi Lim (a friend of CanTHeeRava)
Branding is an identity that is given to a product in order to distinguish it from other products in the same category. Celebrities are high profile citizens of a society who usually distinguish themselves through their talent, skills and public presence. Since a product needs branding to make it special in its category, promotion through celebrity branding offers a logical means of achieving success in a competitive market. Using two contrasting case studies we examine different aspects of celebrity branding, with particular focus on how an individual grows to become a responsible celebrity brand, how do companies go about dealing with celebrities and what can be concluded as best practices in a celebrity-company relationship.
The use of celebrity endorsement for product/brand promotion has significantly increased in recent years and companies worldwide have come to realize the impact celebrities have on potential consumers in convincing them about the product that is advertised. It is argued that celebrity endorsement could be essential, as it will help to build marketing communication between companies that employ a celebrity to promote their product and the consumer who would ultimately use that product. Celebrity endorsement is considered as an effective advertising tool to influence consumer-buying behavior as it is perceived that celebrities can transform the perception of a product by projecting the product’s image as something that brings benefit to the consumer. However, celebrity endorsement of a product might also end up delivering negative publicity both to the advertised product and the endorsing celebrity. Celebrity endorsement has an element of risk in it since the star-promoter is always in the media limelight for reasons other than just product promotion. If for some reason there is some negative information about the celebrity, it has high chance of going viral in the modern free-online media and is likely to get more coverage than necessary in 24hour news channels. This could be detrimental to the image of the product and ultimately it will affect the buying behavior of consumers.
Celebrity culture: pros and cons
Celebrities tend to attract a fair share of public gaze for many reasons. One of them is the general perception that most celebrities are wealthy and are associated with luxury goods, good looks (often cosmetic) and glamorous life styles. This trait of being celebrity feeds into a frenzy among ordinary people and that frenzy manifests itself as celebrity culture. From a marketing perspective they hold a lot of promise because they are capable of introducing new concepts in life styles and fashion. Societies love to hear and see something new and attractive from celebrities (usually gossips). Celebrities also get involved in environmental campaigns, social charity and give back to the societies in need. Celebrities can give voice to their fans and raise their concern about social issues at a national level and lead a positive change. As a result, an aspiring fan develops a virtual relationship with his/her celebrity ‘idol’. Unfortunately, the ‘idol’ in a celebrity would not be worthy of worship in some cases.
Celebrity culture has an ugly side to it. Everything a celebrity does becomes newsworthy. Everything owned by a celebrity becomes a so-called ‘national treasure’. Celebrities using ‘curse’ words in public and in social-media negatively affect their followers, especially teenagers who will see the inappropriate language as something ‘cool’. Some celebrities sell their news by getting caught in scandals rather than being positively creative in their fields. Overemphasis of untested modern ideas by celebrity culture could challenge time tested good practices in a society and sometimes even be detrimental to good aspects in tradition.
Not all celebrities are high achievers
A celebrity usually becomes one by achieving a lot in a chosen field. However, not all celebrities are high achievers. Short-cuts to fame and stardom create an incompetent and compromising celebrity. His agenda would be set by the endorsee and not determined by his own conviction.
Not all high achievers are role models
High achievers in any society tend to be positively self-motivated and do not give in to procrastination. They appreciate non-monetary rewards for their efforts that would otherwise make them wealthy. A society with which the high achievers interact tends to benefit from them. High achievers will usually succeed in becoming a role model through their trustworthiness, credibility, and expertise. However, not all high achievers in a society can be role models. Their single mindedness can make them arrogant and less empathetic. In their pursuit for excellence, high achievers in certain professions can lose touch with the real world.
Any celebrity or any high achiever is not a role model
Instant celebrities who come into existence through TV shows, a minute of fame or other means are likely to fade away very soon since they do not bring in either substantial expertise or lasting appeal. While most celebrities are mildly narcissistic (healthy self-love), a mediocre celebrity would be completely obsessed with himself. Thus, not all celebrities have the charisma and passion to become real role models.
Keeping in view all of these nuances in mind, a company would weigh its option when it chooses to toe the route of celebrity branding. It is very important to strike the right balance in choosing a real celebrity with a broad social appeal and a persona that allows people to naturally link him/her with the product/brand being promoted. We will explore two contrasting case studies to draw reliable conclusions.
Case study 1: Michael Clarke: from a brash young man to a leader of men
Michael Clarke started playing cricket as a teenager and received the Australian Cricket Academy Scholarship (1999-2000) and soon represented New South Wales in the Australian domestic cricket circuit (Espncricinfo player profile, 2013). He made an eventful and successful beginning and stamped his image in the public space very early in his career. Clarke obtained an image of a flashy, page-3, Gen-Y cricketer in the first half of his international career (reference). Since 2010, Clarke’s story has been an amazing example of positive turn-around, conscious brand building and preservation.
The graph above (batting average data sourced from espncricinfo) captures the international year wise test-batting career of Michael Clarke and the vertical lines highlight important events and their impact on his brand image.
(A) International test debut; becomes an instant star by scoring a match-winning century and a series-winning freak bowling performance; wins an Alan Border Medal (2005);
(B) The decline in batting form; dropped from the side; gets a lucky break again in 2006-07 at the cost of a team mate’s injury; performs really well during 2007 cricket world cup, which Australia wins; becomes vice-captain of Australian test team (2008)
(C) Wins his second Alan Border Medal (2009); Endorses Aussie energy drink Synergy
(D) A survey conducted by the newspaper Herald Sun finds that 45% Australian cricket fans see Michael Clarke as an over-rated cricketer despite him being a productive batsman during the 2009 Ashes series; Clarke leaves a series against New Zealand in March 2010 to address personal relationship issues; Loses the deal with Synergy; Retains composure to bat consistently during 2009-10 season amidst chaos in personal life.
(E) Overcomes a career threatening back ailment. Vodafone comes along as a life-line (seeing the potential in him as a future captain) and signs him a 3-year endorsement worth nearly $1 million (Daily Telegraph 2010); Officially takes over from Ricky Ponting as Australian Test Captain (March 2011); Several companies sign him as brand ambassador and his total deal is estimated to be worth at least $2 million/year…Soon, Clarke’s image becomes more serious and to remain consistent with the personality of a team captain, he stops endorsing underwears and shaving creams.
(F) His batting hits a Bradmanish purple patch in 2012; Signs an unprecedented bat endorsement deal with Spartan Sports worth $ 1 million; Gets chosen as a brand ambassador by British Petroleum (a three year contract); His brand is worth almost $6 million a year because of cricketing prowess alone. Wins his third Alan Border Medal (2012) for cricketing excellence.
Case study 2: Lindsay Lohan: a star who fell off the grid
Lindsay Lohan is as American model, fashion designer, actress and recording artist refrence). Lohan started her career as a model when she was three years old. She became a teenage icon in early 2000s and was incredibly successful in attracting several leading companies towards her. In 2004, the movie “Mean Girls” starring Lohan became a blockbuster and brought her recognition. By 2005 she had worked with high profile film-makers including Disney and continued to receive positive reviews by fans and critics alike. However, a series of controversies including a driving incident (under the influence of alcohol) and deaddition rehabilitation brought a dark cloud over her career (starting 2006). Lohan did not act in any substantial venture for a long time. Every time she ventured into a new activity, the media dragged her back into her embarrassing past. She is still trying to make a comeback.
Michael Clarke is one of those high achieving sportspeople who understood the stakes involved in being a real high achieving celebrity. Clarke has overcome many limitations to rise to the challenge of leading a competitive national cricket team and has carefully positioned himself as a role model for the next generation. Trustworthiness and tangible achievements have led Clarke to many celebrity endorsement deals. His aggressive style of captaincy that always pushes for a win has added value to his personality. Clarke has learnt how to earn and preserve good reputation. Lindsay Lohan on the other hand is a high profile celebrity who has not succeeded in becoming a role model.
Brand-managers recognize certain individuals/companies/commodities as ‘risky’ brands. Risks in a include compromise in core value, indifference towards competition, and ignorance towards market dynamics (Reliance Risk, 2010). Celebrities are expected to sell themselves as reliable people before they start endorsing companies and products. Any threat to their character is perceived as a threat to the product they endorse.
Choosing the right celebrity to endorse the right product is essential for ensuring long-term profits in any marketing scenario. A celebrity who is respected in the society is likely to positively influence consumer sentiments towards the product he/she endorses. Most often companies do not get tangible monetary profits after they opt for celebrity promotion. However, a well thought through celebrity endorsement deal brings in public trust (intangible benefits) and it will keep the company in good stead.
A company may choose to drop a celebrity as its brand ambassador when the celebrity is caught in a controversy. However, all situations leading to controversies need not be solved through breaking an endorsement contract. Successful celebrities need to stick with their corporate promoters when the latter is not doing well. E.g. Clarke should have continued to have links with his cricket bat sponsor of 16 years (Slazenger) in 2012 during his golden batting form. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen because his market value had become unaffordable to a small company like Slazenger. Similarly companies should invest in an individual’s potential and more often than not, they would reap benefits in the long run.
The risk of using an inappropriate celebrity could be more detrimental to the company than it is to the celebrity since the relationship is unequal. Companies should distinguish between a celebrity, a high achiever and a real role model when they are screening to hire an individual who ideally should sound synonymous with the product they are trying to promote/sell. Celebrities need to guard their public persona and establish themselves as reliable people before they start endorsing companies and products.