By Tony Samson

CELEBRITIES OFFER a simple marketing appeal in their billboard appearances. They are idolized by many and represent the aspirations of a targeted segment of consumers — I can also use the bank of this famous beauty queen and get the same treatment (without her talent fees).

Celebrity marketing has often been used with little regard to its effectiveness, using the same celebrities to peddle different products. Okay, maybe a skin whitener being endorsed by an actress still in her prime can convince a dark unknown to buy her product. If the capsule whitened her skin, it should do the same for everybody else, presuming that she uses the product she is recommending.

The celebrity shares her popularity and instant recognition to an unknown product. The brand then is supposed to acquire the same appeal she offers. There are attributes of her personality like youth, vivacity, commercial appeal, and chic that are deemed properties of the endorsed product. In advertising, this is called “brand affinity.”

The popularity of celebrity endorsements is clear with how they dominate billboards in major thoroughfares and store fronts. There could be a billboard index to measure both the talent fee and the awareness levels of a featured celebrity. The boxer, in his heyday of knockout wins, could endorse shampoos, muscle pain relievers, and energy drinks. It was the association with a “winner” that kept advertising offers coming. Still, when the winning stopped (in a dramatic fashion when kissing the mat without meaning to) so also did the billboard offers.

Curiously, other sports figures had not attracted the same big bucks for product endorsements. (Would any of the gold medalists in the recent SEA Games now merit billboard space?)

Another kind of endorser is the expert, or someone acting in this role. Is the one checking tartar deposit in your teeth as you come out of the mall a real dentist or an actor playing one? The ad does not specify so the company cannot be accused of misrepresentation. It is enough to make him look professional and possessed of white teeth himself.

Real experts can be endorsers too, even if not well known. These professionals, whose name and affiliation appear in small print below, are employed for products not intended for mass marketing like artificial limbs or in-vitro procedures. Some real practitioners are loath to recommend products that can have possible harmful effects.

Professional endorsements are only attractive for the specialist who has a stake in the company promoting the product like surgical enhancements. Cosmetic surgery celebrity endorsers may waive their talent fees in exchange for the treatment, except in gender change. They usually agree to a “before” and “after” type of format.

What about political endorsements by celebrities? Will dancing with a famous singer in a campaign TV ad boost awareness levels? Instead, before the allowed campaign period, it is the candidates themselves who pose as endorsers for products (ketchup) and advocacies. Here, it is not the ketchup or safe sex that gains marketing advantage but the endorser himself. The product may not even be available. The goal is to raise the profile of the endorser and allow him to skirt the restriction on the campaign period.

Also, there is a risk in celebrity marketing. The brands/images of both celebrity endorser and product become Siamese twins that sink or swim together, at least for a year. A reputational risk for the brand arises with an embarrassing sex video of the celebrity or some fraud attached to the product a hot celebrity has endorsed. The reputational risk affects both the product and its endorser.

It is instructive to realize that when we look for endorsers (or referrals) to guide us in a crisis, it is we who seek them out. When we need guidance in a health predicament to find the best approach or identify a practitioner, we seek find endorsements and guidance valuable.

Still, for everyday products and services, do celebrities really nudge our purchasing decision? Whether it is candidates or products being sold (and these two categories seem to employ the same marketing techniques) the talent fees driving the process make the endorsement dubious. Anyway, it is in the world of fake news and the trumpeting of success for an exorbitantly costly event that celebrities and products blend in… and thrive.


Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda.