Celebrity endorsement of brands is an effective method of enhancing a brand’s image and identity

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According to Friedman & Friedman (1979 p.63) “a celebrity endorser is an individual who is known by the public for his/her achievement in areas other than that of the product class endorsed.” This investigation examines the use of celebrity endorsement as a method of enhancing a brands image & identity. The subject at hand will be addressed by looking at cultural differences, synergy between celebrities and brands, celebrities over endorsing etc., and providing examples using arguments for and against such issues in celebrity endorsement.

Firms enter into brand endorsement arrangements for a variety of reasons, two of the most common are: (1) to increase brand awareness, and (2) to establish, strengthen, or change brand image (Cornwell and Maignan 1998; Crowley 1991; Gwinner 1997; Marshall and Cook 1992; Meenaghan 1991; Meerabeau et al. 1991). Typically, strategies aimed at increasing brand awareness are implemented using a multitude of promotional media and are designed to have the sponsoring brand exposed to as many potential consumers as possible. Brand image has been defined as “perceptions about a brand as reflected by the brand associations held in memory” (Keller 1993: 3)

Compared to other forms of advertising the use of a celebrity endorser as a source of marketing communication has increased over the past few years. Mill ward Brown, a market research company specialising in brand advertising estimates that one in five adverts in the U.K now feature a celebrity (The Independent 3:05). Rutherford (2003:30) states…”celebrity offers us an image of what is typical, which it then helps to create by inviting us to identify with that image. Celebrity arouses strong emotions by promising an intimate encounter with someone whose personality has been exposed to close public scrutiny.” Further support of Rutherford is given by (Cohen & Golden 1972) who say “The identification process1 occurs when influence from the celebrity is accepted as a result of a desire to identify with such endorser”). What Rutherford is saying is through the use of celebrities, advertisers make the consumer feel that they identify with the brand if they identify themselves with the celebrities

For example, The Asda / Sharon Osbourne partnership, best known as the wife and manager of rock star Ozzy Osbourne, the partnership seemed likely to be a celebrity/brand mismatch, such as the Sainsbury’s John Cleese commercials, Britney Spears and Pepsi. Only a month into its release and the ads seem to be a success as Asda’s target audience relates to Sharon Osbourne despite the rock star husband, she is a woman in her own right. Even though celebrity images can be transferred to consumers and affect their preferences, the strength of the brand compared to the strength of the celebrity is equally important. As the celebrity can over power the brands relevance as the consumer will be identifying with the celebrity and not the brand. For example the Martini/George Clooney partnership. When you see the ad you don’t pay attention to the brand being advertised. An independent survey showed that many consumers the James Bond character to the Martini Brand.

McCracken (1989:p312) explains that “the effectiveness of the endorser depends, in part upon, the meaning he or she brings to the endorsement process.” This author proposed the Meaning Transfer Model in order to explain the celebrity endorsement process. Where “meaning” refers to an overall assessment of what a celebrity “represents” to the consumer. This meaning is built upon an individual’s interpretation of the celebrity’s public image as demonstrated in “television, movies, military, athletics, and other careers” (McCracken 1989, p. 315). According to this theory, the meaning attributed to celebrities moves from the celebrity endorser to the product when the two are paired in an advertisement (McCracken 1989). The transfer process is completed when a consumer acquires/consumes the product, thus transferring the meaning to the user.

When a celebrity endorses a brand the characteristics of that celebrity may be compared with the advertised attributes of the brand in order to create a type of synergy between the endorser and the brand. For example, the Michael Jordan/Nike Partnership, there is excellent synergy between the two, Nike being the sports wear conglomerate and Jordan an NBA all star, consumers can see the tangible characteristics of this partnership.

“As companies globalise their operations may find that taking their brand to global audiences is a challenge” (Davis 2002). Cultural differences are so significant that often branding messages suffer from ‘brand entropy’. To combat cultural differences companies adopt the mantra’ think globally act locally’. Brands are developed as global products, but marketing efforts use specific cultures as a guide, in order to incorporate social constructs that exists and in turn influence the way people perceive brand attributes. For example Pepsi and Adidas’s use of Indian cricket captain Sachin Tendulkar. These companies tailor made their adverts in the Indian market by changing the celebrity they use to endorse the brand on a local basis in order that the different target audiences have something to relate to. There are celebrities who have international appeal and are instantly recognisable anywhere in the world, for example Michael Jordan, David Beckham Jennifer Lopez and Nicole Kidman.

A major factor of consideration for an organisation when choosing a celebrity endorser is the concept called multiple brand endorsements. The findings of authors such as Tripp, Jenson and Carlson (1994) suggest that who endorse more than one product becomes less effective and as “the number of products a celebrity endorses negatively influences consumers perceptions of endorser credibility as well as attitudes towards the ad” (Tripp et al 1994: 543). The most famous example of a celebrity who endorses a number of brands is David Beckham. ‘Brand Beckham’ endorses Gillette, Pepsi, Adidas, Vodafone, Brylcreem and others internationally. It would seem the problem is he has no clear image, “he is seen as an endorsement whore, he has prostituted himself out to so many brands that his endorsement now lack credibility.” (Haig 4:30). Tripp et al says “simply knowing that a celebrity endorses multi products is sufficient to erode consumer perception of endorser trustworthiness.” This would directly affect the image of the brand they are associated with.

Another issue for advertisers to look at is the use of multiple celebrities in a campaign. Research has shown that at times if a campaign has a large advertising and media budget, multiple celebrities would be introduced in order not to bore the target audience as people change and the way they relate to brands also change. Therefore, the sort of personality used to endorse a product should be different for different age groups. For example, two celebrities may be used to give slightly different attitudes to brands. In a lot of cases a brand has a wide range of consumers and sometimes the use of multiple celebrities is needed to cover the whole target audience, though it must be made sure that each celebrity’s values reflects core brand values.

The need for brands using a celebrity in advertising is more noticeable when the concerned brand is using highly substitutable, there is a need to create a unique differentiation for the brand. Marketers use celebrity endorsements for very good reasons:

* Because the majority of people seek recognition. The consumer feels that buying a product that a famous person claims to wear or use connects them to their fame and to their status. E.G. prominent U.S rapper 50 cent partnered with Reebok to endorse and design his own Reeboks in order for the company to tap into the large growing urban market.

* Celebrities facilitate instant awareness and immediate attention. With so many medium clutters there is a great need to get people time and focus. E.G. celebrities like David Beckham tend to gain peoples attention when he is placed in any type of media. A survey by Mori (market research company) showed that 72% of people would watch an advert if David Beckham was involved.

* Celebrities can provide testimony for a product or service. This relationship can increase a consumer’s belief and trust in the brand and its attributes. E.G. Jamie Oliver and Sainsbury’s, according to research by the Institute of Practioners in Advertising 02:2005 the campaign generated 1.2bn pounds in turnover so far and has increased consumer loyalty.

On the other hand, there can be some negative consequences to using celebrities as endorsers. Despite the potential benefits they can provide there is really little a celebrity can add to a brand.

* Celebrity endorsement is a very expensive venture in contrast to other forms of brand sponsorship. E.G. Nicole Kidman was paid 18 million pounds for a 3 minute CHANEL advert. But normally a minor T.V personality can expect 50,000 to 75,000 pounds per endorsement, with more established celebrities earning between 200,000 to 250,000 pounds.

* The second argument against celebrity endorsement involves the behaviour of the celebrity. “When a negative image of the celebrity is portrayed a tainted picture is also painted for the brand. (Dyson and Turco: 2002). Notable cases are Vinnie Jones/ Bacardi partnership, Vinnie Jones’s altercation aboard an aircraft coincided with public concerns about air rage and drink driving. Also O.J Simpson and Hertz, and Michael Jackson and Pepsi. The fear of potential celebrity scandals has given rise to a trend of using deceased celebrities “individuals who can no longer engage in behaviors that might bring embarrassment and injury to the brands which they are linked” (Goldman:1994)

* ‘Use of a celebrity is great for advertising the celebrity’. Often the presence of a celebrity can overshadow the brand. E.G. David Beckham who has become a brand in himself and makes more money as a brand than he does for his football contract.

Within the limitations of this investigation it is safe to say as several failures show it is essential that advertisers are aware of the complexities of celebrity endorsement, such as cultural differences, multi product endorsement and the other issues discussed. Aligning brands with celebrities can be immensely valuable in terms of brand building, providing that there is synergy to the brands values. Advertisers hope their target audiences positive feeling toward a chosen celebrity will transfer to the endorsed brand or will enhance the brands standing.

This is not always the case as consumers can only be fooled and held captivated to the celebrity lifestyle phenomena for so long. . Consumers also buy hoping and envisaging that they two can have success like their idol or at least belong to or be part of what their idol is. Findings revealed that advertisers see media clutter as the biggest challenge for marketing communications practitioners nowadays and use a celebrity endorsement strategy to overcome this challenge. For a celebrity endorsement campaign to bring desirable results must support a good idea and there must be a congruency between celebrities and brands. While deciding on a particular celebrity, a range of criteria is reported to be taken into account and these criteria’s importance differ across countries mainly because of cultural differences.

There are celebrities who don’t misbehave and there are those who weren’t cost an arm and a leg. But as a means of exemplifying the brand the celebrity endorsement strategy seems to be most favourable even if the celebrity is deceased. Using celebrities manipulates people to buy because they believe that the product has added value. These findings have a number of implications for both theory and practice. At the theoretical level, the research suggests that the celebrity endorsement strategy has become an important component of marketing communications strategy for firms in today’s competitive environment.

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