Celebrity endorsers aren’t going away despite the Sheen-like risks

Actor Charlie Sheen public escapades makes this a good time to talk about the use of celebrities in advertising. Sheen was featured in Hanes commercials, which were dropped when negativity about him intensified. He follows a list of celebrity endorsers – Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, Kate Moss, Michael Phelps, Chris Brown, Brett Favre – who ended up being brand liabilities instead of champions. Don’t expect this to deter advertisers from using celebrities, though. Why? Because they draw attention to and help shape perceptions of the brand.

One local example is Reliant Energy’s use of NFL Hall of Famer Troy Aikman in TV spots. Aikman’s agent tries to rope him into endorsing a dental gun, while Aikman practically begs for a shot at representing Reliant Energy. See for yourself:

For the Reliant Energy brand to be tied to an athlete like Aikman, whose performance as quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys was nothing short of electric at times, is an excellent fit. Consumers likely will infer that Reliant, like Aikman, is competitive, reliable, credible…and delivers even under pressure.

Linking a celebrity endorser to a brand is not without risk, however. Besides undesirable behavior and/or sudden loss of popularity that can diminish the celebrity’s marketing value to the brand, there are any number of potential problems:

  • Celebrity endorsers can be overused by pitching so many products that there ends up being no specific product meaning, or consumers believe that celebrities only do it for the money and don’t believe in or even use the product.
  • The celebrity’s star power can overshadow the brand to the point where consumers can’t recall the advertised brand.
  • A mismatch of celebrity and brand is unbelievable or illogical to consumers.
  • Some consumers can feel that celebrities’ salaries to appear in advertisements add a significant and unnecessary cost to the brand.

What this all means is care must be taken by brands so that celebrity endorsers are evaluated, selected and used strategically, as well as closely monitored.

A recent survey by Starch Advertising Research indicates we can expect to continue to see celebrities featured in print ads because doing so produces a 9.4 percent lift in readership than ads without a celebrity endorser.

Do you think celebrity endorsements are worth the risk?