Celebrities still sell

By Kim Harrison,Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com

In an article in Cutting Edge PR e-News in 2006 I predicted that the use of celebrities in product marketing may be winding down.

Recent figures bear out this view, but the fact is that celebrities are still a very potent marketing tool.

Research firm Millward Brown calculated that stars featured in 14% of US ads in 2007, which was down from a high of 19% in 2004, but still an influential proportion.

What’s more, the trend is even hotter in some other countries. According to the New York Times, celebrities appear in 24% of the ads in India and 45% in Taiwan.

People live vicariously through the products and services that celebrities are connected with – they relate to status they can only aspire to have in their own lives.

When Chanel signed up Nicole Kidman to reinvigorate an aging product, Chanel No. 5, sales rose 30%. And sales of Nike golf products jumped when they signed up Tiger Woods.

Marketers continue to align their products with top celebrities, but will make do with others down the line, even with such pseudo-celebs as contestants on reality-TV shows.

A New York talent agency developed an index in 2006 named after itself (the Davie Brown Index) for brand marketers and agencies to determine a celebrity’s ability to influence brand affinity and consumer purchase intent.

The index provides marketers with a systematic approach for quantifying the use of celebrities in their advertising and marketing campaigns.

The index consists of a 1.5 million-member consumer research panel which evaluates a celebrity’s awareness, appeal and relevance to a brand’s image and their influence on consumer buying behavior. The index has more than 1,500 celebrities presented to randomly selected respondents four times per year.

Respondents who are aware of a certain celebrity are then asked a standard set of questions about that celebrity. Using a six-point scale, seven key attributes are evaluated, including appeal, notice, trendsetter, influence, trust, endorsement, and aspiration. The database is updated weekly, scores and rankings are dynamic and change frequently.

The top five current celebrities are Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Michael Jordan, Morgan Freeman and George Clooney. Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain are 9th and 25th respectively.

One category in the index in which celebrities appear vulnerable is trust. Celebrities are recognizable and appealing, but audiences may be dubious about trusting their word.

If that’s the case, why do people still buy the products they are associated with? The answer seems to lie in two factors:

  1. The advent of websites and magazines that cover the trivia of stars’ lives. Consumers are eager to emulate those celebrities.

  2. The growth of urban hip-hop music and the way artists associate themselves with brands on clothing, fragrances and other goods.

Another explanation is that the minds of consumers are overloaded with information and stimulation, and the use of celebrities is one way to short-cut through the maze.

The trend is to work even more closely with selected stars to make them an integral part of the marketing focus.

The risk with using celebrities is that their celebrity status may fade or they may do something to spoil their image. There is no way to guarantee a long life for celebrity marketing campaigns; the use of celebrities is a calculated risk. An advisable strategy would be to have a fallback position ready to go if a star falls from grace.

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website, www.cuttingedgepr.com, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.

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