OPINION10 December 2014

I’m a Celebrity Endorser, Get Me Out of Here!


Does research have a role in determining when a celebrity will add shine to a brand ponders Research Now’s Ben Hogg.

Over the past month, every brand manager in the country will have been busy checking the excellent YouGov Profiles to ensure that their brands are not associated with either Gary Glitter or Rolf Harris. And if they are lucky enough to have a celebrity brand ambassador of their own choice, they will probably be watching them rather closely, after Peter Andre claimed on a talk show to be embarrassed about taking part in a certain retailer’s adverts.  

Although this is not the first time a celebrity endorsement has gone wrong. Back in the 1970s and 1980s American football star O.J. Simpson was the spokesman for rental agency Hertz, until he was dropped in 1994, following his arrest for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

Rather more topically, the Campaign For Real Santas, an action group that campaigns for Santas to have organic beards, dropped author Francis Wheen as the face of organic Santas last Christmas for the outrageous reason that these days he does not actually sport a beard (although has now been reinstated on account of his newly sprouted facial hair). Helpfully, the Campaign For Real Santas offers advice on how to determine imposters.

Celebrity endorsements and product placements are now very much the norm (whether physically in films or video games, or lyrically in music – think grime artist Wiley, who when not “usually bubbling” is lamenting the fact that a girl he barely knows is “wearing his Rolex”). As a nation, we are now used to being marketed to while consuming content, rather than just during advertising breaks.

And this is despite there being a question over celebrity endorsements’ effectiveness; earlier this year, academics at the Universities of Manchester and Sussex looked into the benefits of celebrity advocacy. The survey found that 75% of people say that they have never responded ‘in any way’ to celebrity advocacy; almost two-thirds could not name a single celebrity linked with high-profile charities such as Action Aid, Amnesty International or Oxfam, while just 7% could name more than two.

All of this led me to deliberate on how our leading brands went about choosing suitable ambassadors. In some cases, it’s quite a natural and obvious pairing – think the peerless Roger Federer for Rolex, or the smooth and refined George Clooney for Nespresso. 

The researcher in me likes to believe that a company sets out with a brief to conduct a conjoint exercise, with its brand loyalists choosing from a variety of sportsmen, actors, musicians, heroes and villains to end up with the perfect match for their brand. A quick search online led me to the DBI (or Davie-Brown Index), developed by Sharp Analytics in 2006, which seeks to define perceptions of almost 3,000 celebrities, based on the findings of a research panel of over one million people. 

While this sounds like a good, solid and scientific approach to adopt, my background in media sales (and the cynic in me) suggests that the more likely scenario is that the marketing director is simply a fan of golf or sailing, and so would gravitate towards Tiger Woods or Ben Ainslie.

Has a client of yours ever asked you to embark on such an exercise? If so, how did you go about this? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the best way to go about finding a suitable ‘face of…’ How would you go about weighing up the advantages with potential risks, and ‘scandals in waiting’? Who would you choose as the celebrity face of your research agency, and why?

Ben Hogg is managing director EMEA – portfolio businesses at Research Now.


9 years ago

I always find it amusing when people say celebrity endorsements have no effect on them or that they can't name any endorsers. Yet, neuroscience will show you that our brains DO notice brand/endorser relationships. And, good endorsements directly increase purchase rates. Ah dear brain, you mischievous blob of goo! Pardon me while I go purchase Bieber's cologne/perfume. :)

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9 years ago

YouGov Profiles is excellent. I m glad you reference it in the opening Ben.

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