But are these kinds of endorsements really relevant to eCommerce? Compared to influencer marketing, celebrity endorsements feel traditional and outdated. And are they even different strategies?
There’s no question that influencer marketing is an evolutionary step in borrowing celebrity for advertising, and they do overlap. But celebrity endorsement is a fundamentally different brand tactic and still offers profound potential business benefits.
So tune in to learn more, including how to choose the right celebrity for your brand, and how to get started creating your strategy…
The difference between influencer marketing and a celebrity endorsement
A brief history of celebrity endorsements
How celebrity endorsements can make your brand building more effective
The top 3 traits to consider when choosing the right celebrity endorser for your brand
Full Podcast Transcript
Hello Beings of Earth! I’m your host Neil Verma.
Welcome to eBrandCast, where we decode what branding truly is, so you can build a dominant eCom Brand.
In this episode, we’re going to dive into the world of celebrity brand endorsements, including how to secure an endorsement deal for your business.
Before we get started, I just want to clear up one misconception.
A celebrity endorsement isn’t the same as influencer marketing.
They get mixed up easily because there’s quite a bit of overlap between them.
We tend to think of celebrities are people who have earned their fame through traditional media, like movies, TV, or modelling.
Influencers on the other hand, have built their clout through social media, outside of mainstream media channels.
Influencers marketing aims to build trust for a brand inside a niche community, whereas celebrities typically carry a brand to a wider audience and lend their fame to the product.
A good way to think about it is that influencers are specialists.
There also tends to be more direct interaction between the influencer and their audience.
Celebrity endorsements have a more aspirational feel to them.
Celebrities deliver a brand message that we know has been at least partially shaped by the brand.
Influencers on the other hand are seen as the sole creators of the content they publish.
It’s one reason influencer marketing has become more prominent, because there’s a more authentic feel to these campaigns.
We’ll cover why that’s important a little later.
For today though, I want to focus on the celebrity side of things.
It might be a little more traditional than influencer marketing, but it’s still worth considering, and many of the tactics we’ll cover today will also apply to any influencer marketing you undertake.
You might think of celebrity endorsements as a product of mass media, but it’s much, much older than you may expect.
Like branding itself, the power of celebrity endorsements doesn’t come from the tyranny of media, it’s obviously engrained in human nature.
Even in Ancient Rome, endorsements were a powerful marketing tool.
Between the 1st century BC and the 2nd century AD, gladiators were the celebrities of Rome.
Despite modern assumptions, fighting rarely resulted in death.
Gladiator combat was more of a sport, referees were used, and fighters even had a trade union.
In fact, only about 1 in 10 fights were fatal.
So, some gladiators rose to great acclaim across the Roman empire.
Jewelry that had been dipped in gladiator blood was popular.
Even skincare products and cosmetics contained gladiator sweat that were sold.
And it wasn’t uncommon for these fighters to endorse all kinds of services and products.
Some of these early advertisements are still preserved in frescos.
The practice was so widespread that the director of the movie Gladiator, Ridley Scott, actually considered including a scene where Maximus endorsed an olive oil.
It was cut from the film because Scott didn’t think modern audiences would find it believable.
So celebrity endorsements aren’t exactly new.
But they have evolved considerably.
In the late 1940’s and 50’s, before there were 4 TVs in every house, celebrity endorsements were seen as mutually exclusive to the brand and the star.
Actors and other celebrities would appear in marketing in exchange for the ad mentioned their newest release.
For instance, the director Alfred Hitchcock was feature in a print ad for a Western Union Telegram ad.
The caption for the photo mentions Hitchcock is shown on the set of “North by Northwest.”
At this time, the idea was to familiarize more people with the stars as well as the brands, and there was often very little rhyme or reason behind the partnerships.
Hitchcock and telegrams aren’t exactly a natural pairing.
Things started changing in the Mad Men fueled era of the 1960’s, although TV ads were taking off, most celebrity endorsements were still in print.
There were 2 important exceptions.
One was the brand sponsorships that were integrated into the TV show, like the frequent skits on the Andy Griffth Show.
The second grew out of ad agency research that found young consumers were skeptical of corporate messaging.
The counterculture of the 60’s was becoming an cultural phenomenon at the time, and so brands enlisted celebrities from the movement to endorse brands.
Like the endorsement of Smirnoff by Woody Allen.
But it’s not until the 1980’s that celebrity endorsements really took off.
One of the first blockbuster partnerships was between Pepsi and Michael Jackson for Pepsi’s New Generation campaign.
The $20 million deal broke ground because of the tight integration between the celebrity and the brand.
Pepsi was a very visible sponsor of Michael Jackson’s tour, while his music was used extensively in Pepsi ads.
Their images were practically inseparable.
The other game-changing endorsement from this time was between Nike and Michael Jordan.
Again, what magnified the partnership was the alignment between the star and the brand’s identity.
The first shoe created by the partnership, the Air Jordan I was red and black.
They were banned by the NBA because it violated their “all white” shoe policy, but Jordan wore them anyway.
For every game he wore the Nike’s, Jordan was fined $5,000.
You can imagine, it garnered a lot of attention from the media and sparked a lot of debate.
It only increased the desirability of the shoes.
First of all, it was clear Jordan believed in the brand if he was willing to pay out a fine every game just to wear them.
But also, because everyone else’s shoes were all white, they stood out, much like Jordan’s talent.
In the 90’s, the concept of a “mass market” was starting to fragment.
With drastic demographic changes happening in North America, consumer groups were becoming more diverse.
The ability for brands to reach niche communities became more important.
This is when the absolute necessity of a symbiotic relationship between the endorser and the brand emerged.
Just like Woody Allen and Smirnoff, brands reached out to counterculture figures, especially in hip-hop.
Sprite partnered with A Tribe Called Quest, and Reebok had a partnership with Jay-Z.
The internet has only accelerated this trend.
Culture has only niched down.
This has been coupled with growing mistrust of mass media and branded messaging.
It’s exactly why influencer campaigns have risen as a force in the digital marketing world.
But celebrity endorsements haven’t lost their edge, either.
One thing that has changed: celebrity endorsements are a lot more likely to be product collaborations than simply hiring a star to be in your brand’s ad.
A modern example is the partnership between Adidas and Kanye West for the Yeezy brand.
It’s a way for both the brand and the star to gain a core competency.
Adidas wanted to expand their streetwear segment, and Kanye West brings a talent for design and credibility with the right audience.
While Adidas gives Kanye West access to manufacturing and distribution as well as talent to bring his vision to reality.
The endorsement has increased Adidas’ earnings by 14% and inspired a cult-like devotion among buyers.
Why do celebrity endorsements work?
Don’t underestimate the power of familiarity.
Humans strongly prefer the familiar.
And seeing a recognizable face on a product or alongside a brand goes a long way to create brand preference.
Not to mention people are more likely to remember you ad after the fact.
The right celebrity pairing with your brand can also create a “halo effect” on your products.
This means that if a consumer has a positive opinion about a star, they’re likely to extend that positive feeling to your brand as well.
It’s a phenomenon that helps us make decisions more quickly.
It also influences consumers to value your products as having higher quality, by association alone.
As long as you choose the right celebrity (we’ll get there in a minute), they can give your brand instant credibility.
For example, PUMA’s partnership with Rhianna tapped into her personal experience.
Because she grew up wearing uniforms to school, her FENTY PUMA line was designed to be unique, fun, and colorful.
It’s a way for her to express her creativity in a medium that was unavailable to her growing up.
As a result, PUMA saw a 180% increase in searches for their brand.
And of course, endorsements offer the benefit of influencers, access to new demographics.
So let’s get to the practical side of things.
What’s the process for choosing and securing a celebrity endorsement?
Well the first step, as always, is to ensure you have a strong brand behind your business.
If you don’t have a unique, differentiated brand identity, you won’t have the tools to choose the right celebrity.
And more than that, you won’t have value to offer any potential partner.
Remember, the point with an endorsement is the synergy between the brand and the endorser.
The strength of your brand is what you bring to the table.
If you haven’t covered this step yet, you can get started with by free book, Checkout, which covers my 7C process.
It’s an end-to-end branding method just for eCommerce.
You can get your copy at ebrandbook.com.
Assuming your brand is amazing, it’s also important to understand that there is a risk involved in endorsement deals.
Celebrities are human beings.
They are imperfect, make mistakes, and sometimes behave in ways that will reflect poorly on your brand.
The list of celebrities dropped by brands is long.
Pepsi dropped Madonna in 1989 after she released an R-Rated music video.
Kate Moss was booted from deals with Burberry, Chanel, and H&M after photos of her using cocaine became public.
Michael Vick lost endorsements with Nike, Rawlings, and AirTran Airways in 2007 for animal abuse and dog fighting.
And of course, Lance Armstrong was shunned from every brand imaginable in 2012 when it came to light he had cheated in all of his Tour de France wins.
It’s why virtually all endorsement contracts include a “morals clause” that allow brands to back out of the deal if a celebrity’s behavior impacts the brand’s image.
Research has shown that the more competitive your market, the more damage a scandal involving an endorsement can have on your brand.
So just know, endorsements are going to come with a responsibility to manage your brand’s image.
Although, don’t dismiss a celebrity just because they’ve been dropped as an endorser before.
For instance, Olympic Champion Michael Phelps lost several endorsements following photos of him using marijuana were made public.
He had also been arrested for driving under the influence previously.
But in 2018, Phelps revealed that after the 2012 Olympics he struggled with ADHD, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
Revelations that made him an ideal endorser of TalkSpace, an online therapy service.
So, there’s a balance here.
You don’t have to hire Mr. Rogers, but you do have to know who’s right for your brand.
To choose a celebrity, Martin Roll from Branding Strategy Insider offers 3 traits to consider.
This isn’t limited to physical attractiveness.
Celebrities are also intellectually attractive to their audience, so is their lifestyle and talent.
The celebrity must have personal credibility and be seen as trustworthy.
But they also need to be perceived as experts with relevance to your brand’s category.
Which brings us to,
#3: Meaning transfer between the celebrity and the brand.
Your brand and the celebrity need to be compatible in terms of identity, values, personality, and lifestyle.
This is closely related to credibility.
If there’s no alignment, credibility will be non-existent.
One well-known failed endorsement based on this was between Microsoft and Oprah.
Oprah agreed to endorse Microsoft’s Surface tablets on Twitter.
She sent out the tweet saying she had already purchased 12 as gifts for family and friends.
The only problem was her tweet indicated she had sent the message from her iPad.
It didn’t exactly come off as a genuine recommendation.
Beyond these 3 traits, it’s also important to look at a celebrity’s endorsement history.
This will give you an idea of how their audience will perceive your brand.
But also, you don’t want to work with someone who’s already endorsed one of your direct competitors.
Unless you deal directly with a brand preference shift head on, more often than not it will come off as insincere to consumers.
Likewise, studies have found that endorsements by celebrities that are considered “overexposed” to consumers are a lot less effective than endorsements from celebrities who rarely partner with brands.
Next, consider the interests of any potential partner.
Endorsements that leverage natural interests are always more effectively.
Heinz Ketchup, for example, partnered with singer Ed Sheeran to create a limited-edition bottle of ketchup called “Edchup.”
They might seem like an odd-couple, but it worked beautifully because Ed Sheeran is a genuine fan of Heinz.
So much so that he actually has a tattoo of the Heinz Ketchup label on his arm.
Another element to consider is the alignment between your brand and the celebrity’s audience.
PokerStars teamed up with Kevin Hart and Usain Bolt for a very funny video.
Hart and Bolt compete in a hot chicken wing eating contest, and Daniel Negreau, the worlds top poker player, acts as the referee.
Aside from the personality alignment, PokerStar understood fans of Hart and Bolt would be naturally open to their brand.
But, speaking of audiences, don’t get caught up in the vanity metrics.
A celebrity with a huge audience is not as valuable to you as a one with a more engaged audience.
The idea is to encourage the celebrity’s audience to learn more about your brand.
They won’t do that if they’re not actively engaging with the celebrity’s content.
You can also look for shared causes or charities between your brand and the star.
It can give a celebrity a good reason to partner with your brand.
A few other do’s and don’ts for this process.
Make sure you’re thinking long-term.
The most successful celebrity endorsements last years, but even if it’s only for one campaign or social post, the association will be remembered for a long time.
This is why aligning your brand with the celebrity’s personal brand is so important.
The recent rise of celebrity founders, especially in eCommerce, is a case in point.
Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company came out of her personal goal of finding more safe, ethical, and toxin-free household and self-care products.
It’s a genuine personal passion inspired by the birth of her first child.
Kate Hudson’s Fabletics is another example, a subscription athleisurewear brand whose business model mirrors eCommerce giants like Casper and Dollar Shave Club.
The brand reflects her personal style and she’s the face of the brand.
And of course, Kylie Costmetics by Kylie Jenner.
In her case, she’s not just leveraging her fame but her wide social media influence.
This is part of a larger eCommerce trend toward linear commerce, meaning the line between brand and audience is disappearing.
Celebrities can create brands because they already have an engaged audience.
But it also goes to the point that the alignment between the celebrity and the brand identity is a major way credibility is built.
And it’s central to long-term thinking.
Also, don’t get caught up in this.
Securing a celebrity endorsement isn’t the goal of branding.
It’s just one of your potential channels.
A good lesson here comes from Ciroc Vodka, who had a long partnership with Sean “P Diddy” Combs, who now co-owns the brand.
In the mid-2000’s Ciroc struggled, but started gaining steam following Combs’ aggressive endorsements.
He was hardly seen on a red carpet without a bottle in his hands.
In 2007, they barely sold 40,000 cases.
By 2012, Combs had helped by grow to 2.1 million cases sold.
But when Combs was asked about his role, he gave a realistic answer.
He said: “I can’t overhype someone into loving vodka. But once consumers actually taste Ciroc, I think we can concert a lot of people.”
And that’s exactly how you should think about celebrity endorsements.
They can persuade a consumer to try your brand, but that customer won’t come back unless your product is good, and your brand is valuable to them.
You’ve picked some celebrity candidates.
How do you secure them as endorsers?
One of the easier options is just to send your product directly to them.
The hope here is that they’ll be seen or photographed wearing or using your brand.
Estee Lauder started out by giving her products to celebrities.
The brand is now worth $5 billion.
So don’t dismiss this option because it sounds simple.
If you’re going to go this route, though, make sure to contact their publicist or stylist, rather than try to reach them directly.
If, however, you’re hoping for a more formal partnership, you’ll have to reach out to their manager.
When reaching out to a publicist, make sure you’re sending a personalized message.
Don’t use a copy/paste email.
The idea here is to point out the synergy between the personal brand of the celebrity and your brand.
You can’t do that with a generic form letter.
Also make clear the benefit an endorsement offers the celebrity.
What’s in it for them?
Whatever you do, be concise.
You’re not the only person reaching out, and celebrities and their assistants will decide quickly whether your request is worth a response.
Stick to the key details, and make clear what you’re hoping they’ll do, what kind of time commitment would be involved for the celebrity, when you need to hear a response by,
And most important of all, why this partnership is a good idea for them or their client.
In the case that you get a positive reply, and you’re invited to send your product, consider sending something for the publicist as well.
This is all about relationships, and including them will go a long way to building good will and ensuring they’ll remember you.
However, in this kind of arrangement, you aren’t guaranteed the celebrity will end up wearing or endorsing your brand.
You’ll give yourself the best chance if your product and brand truly is a good fit.
For example, the brand My1stYears.com offers gift baskets for newborns.
The brand targeted celebrities who recently had children and sent them personalized gifts.
They sent a basket to Elton John and his partner David Furnish following the arrival of their son Zachary.
John was so impressed with the gift he showed pictures of it online to express his gratitude.
But it was highly personalized.
For instance, one item was a teddy bear with “Tiny Dancer” embroidered on it.
Tiny Dancer is the name of one of Elton John’s most iconic songs.
Another option, if you have a retail location or office nearby, you can invite the celebrity or one of the assistants to visit and pick out products that interest them.
This probably isn’t going to work with an A-lister, whose time is precious, and expensive, but it might be the right move with a more niche figure.
Also, you’ll have more luck if you already know they’re a fan of your brand.
In general, keep in mind that the smaller the request, the more likely you’ll get a positive response.
Asking for a single tweet is probably more realistic than a product collaboration.
And it can be a foundation for a longer-term relationship.
But again, you need to know what’s best for your brand.
A more expensive option is to get your product included in gift bags, or your brand featured in a gift lounge.
Gift bags – which are more like suitcases than tote bags – are regularly given to celebrities at events.
Gift lounges are on-site events where celebrities can browse brand booths and pick up items they’re interested in for free.
A lounge is definitely the more pricey option, but it does give you the opportunity to speak to the person one-on-one.
Getting included in a gift bag can cost you anywhere between $400 and $4,000.
Lounges usually start around $5,000.
They’re a high-risk, high-reward option, and not every product is going to be a good fit.
Finally, a more creative and affordable option is to use the website Cameo.com.
It’s a service that allows you to pick from hundreds of celebrities you can hire to film a quick “shout-out.”
The service is intended for consumers to buy birthday or milestone shout-outs or personalized “hellos” for friends and family.
But, several marketers have successfully used the platform to hire celebrities to shout-out their products or brand.
And the best part is it’s affordable, depending on the celebrity it’s anywhere between $50 to a few hundred dollars.
Speaking of fees, celebrity endorsements are an investment.
But there are plenty of options for deal structures that may make is more affordable for your brand.
Also, depending on the specific celebrity and the size of their audience, those costs will vary.
The first, straightforward option, is a flat fee.
Many celebrities will prefer a one-off payment for an appearance or social media post.
Again, it will depend on what your brand’s goals are if this works for you, and the fee will vary considerably depending on the celebrity.
A post from Kylie Jenner is reportedly worth $13,000, but many celebrities are more affordable for smaller budgets.
Another easy option is paying per hour.
In this arrangement, the celebrity agrees to work for the brand for an agreed number of hours, in a specific timeframe.
For example, an hour a week, or 5 hours a month.
And then you pay then for each hour.
Or, you can pay per action.
For every completed action a celebrity does for the brand, like a social media post, or mentioning your brand in an interview.
Commission pays the endorser based on the sales their partnership brings in.
It’s similar to how affiliate marketing works.
However, it is more common for endorsers to want to be paid for the work they do.
Licensing is another route.
You should only consider this option if your brand is a very strong match to the celebrity’s personality and audience.
And the celebrity will only consider it if your brand offers them an important benefits as well.
As a start up, this one will likely be out of reach.
Finally, you can offer the celebrity an equity stake in your brand.
This is the foundation for a much longer-term relationship, and is less likely to overextend you financially.
However, the best brand candidates here will be startups in trending industries like technology and fashion.
The demographics of the star’s audience must be an ideal match with your target customers.
And the success of these deals usually hinges on whether your brand is ready to launch aggressively.
You’ll need to spread awareness quickly, which your endorser should help with.
But don’t be intimidated.
And whether celebrity endorsement is right for your brand or not, the same basic principles apply to every choice your brand will make.
These are the key words whether your approaching an celebrity, or choosing a new template for your website.
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