Thursday, 1 July 2010

Choose Your Own Celebrity

There's been alot of talk lately about the value of paying a celebrity to spruik your product. Sometimes it's hugely successful, sometimes it's an abysmal failure and sometimes it's just, well...weird. Like Lleyton Hewitt as the face of Sorbent toilet paper. Enough said. Some brands are just tempted to throw alot of coin at *insert person of the moment here*...but is it always worth it, and what do you do when you have a great brand but not alot of dosh?

The Accidental Endorsement
There's only one story I can start this topic with and that's my Britney moment, God bless her cotton socks (or her Sketchers, considering she's paid a motzah to wear them). Back in 2001 I was working at Spin, and in came team Ken Done - his kids had been given the task of celebrating the 21st anniversary of Done. At the time, despite the iconic stature of the brand and our respect for it, we were a little nervous about being given the task of making it cool. But as I've always said, it's WAY more fun to work on making a daggy brand cool rather than just working on a cool brand - anyone can maintain the image of sass & bide.

So back to September 2001, and Britney was coming to town. And yes she was actually cool then if you can remember back that far. We had heard her say that she liked to support the local designers of any city she visited on tour, so we decided to get her to put her money where her mouth was. We knew her stylist, so were able to wrangle getting a gift pack literally placed on her bed in her suite - and contained within was a variety of Aussie designer duds, including a Ken Done bikini.

Sadly that week, September 11 happened and devastated the world. As a result, all planes were grounded for days, leaving Britney stranded in Australia. And what's a girl to do on a sunny Spring day? Head to Bondi Beach. That Sunday I was at the Beach Road Hotel when I suddenly received several phone calls stating that Britney was at the beach in our Ken Done bikini, surrounded by news crews (I recall almost choking on my beer). To cut a long story short, the pics and footage of Britney in her Ken Done polkadots went around the world - it was named the "fashion moment of 2001" and featured in Hello!, Paris Match and pratically every other paper & magazine in the world. Sales of that particular bikini went through the roof and Done experienced a significant spike in general sales immediately after.

Oh, the power of celebrity endorsement had never been so clear. We hadn't paid her a single cent and it culminated in over $12 million worth of PR. And the irony? She was sponsored by Pepsi at the time to the tune of millions, and was photographed that week in Australia enjoying an icy cold can of Coke. Whoopsadaisies Brit Brit...but cue a pat on the back for the Spin Showroom girls! Of course, every client thereafter asked us to "do a Britney" for them, so it was a tough act to live up to when it had pretty much been a fluke :)

How to choose?
I used to work on the STC Spring & Autumn Racing Carnivals for a number of years, and each season we would employ a celebrity ambassador to be the face of the races for that period. The initial meetings of who we were going to choose must surely have been hilarious to listen to for anyone not in the industry. We would collectively come up with a 'hit-list' of celeb girls & guys, covering the spectrum of TV, music, film etc, and then one by one dissect each and every one of them regarding their suitability - down to the finest detail. I think it's times like this that I thank my lucky stars that I'm a behind the scenes girl and not a celebrity. I do not have the thick skin to handle being discussed like a commodity, but you have to remember that in these instances, they pretty much are. The final decision is based on a combination of their relevance, heat, and of course - how much they cost.

Get them on their way up.
What's cleverer that picking a fabulous celebrity to be the face of your campaign? Picking someone who's almost made it but not quite. If you get your timing right, you can get them before they hit the big time, meaning they are cheaper, more interesting because they're fresh, and you look extra-clever for predicting their rise before anyone else did. A great example is when Pierre Cardin signed Grant Hackett literally moments before he hit the big time. I think I am particularly adept at predicting stars-to-be, but admittedly I never would have predicted that chubby little Vinnie from Home & Away would grow up to become Jason Stackhouse...WOW Ryan Kwanten completely blind-sided me.

And how do you acquire these skills? By being a voracious consumer of popular culture. I always knew my addiction to tabloid mags, gossip pages and E News would pay dividends someday. On that note, ACP hired me 3 years running to work the red carpet at The Logies, simply because I could recognise pretty much every single person attending. I would be stationed approx 20m from the red carpet, stick my head in the limo, then radio the names to the front of the red carpet so the media would know exactly who was getting out. Hidden talent or the height of ridiculousness? Am happy for you to decide, although I am painfully aware that 6 foreign languages could fit in the place of all the random celebrity trivia I have in my brain. By the way, Shiloh is a Gemini.

Who are you kidding...?
I think it's hilarious when brands choose celebrities who they think can give their product credibility, when clearly they are seriously living in fantasy land if they think their customer is going to believe it. Like Libby Trickett currently doing the rounds for KFC. Or Kerry Armstrong espousing the benefits of Coca-Cola for children. It's a shame when celebrities sell-out, but dollar signs can be very seductive when an actor is between jobs or an athlete is post-retirement. Never treat your customer like an idiot.

Make sure they know their stuff
Oh. God. I CRINGE when I see a celebrity interviewed for whatever they're spruiking and they have no idea what they're talking about. I rarely blame the celebrity here (well, if they're particularly dim I do), but I blame the PR or Brand Manager for not briefing them to within an inch of their lives. You've spent serious money getting them on board - surely you can spend a couple of hours drumming your message into their head? It's inexcusable and makes a mockery of the whole exercise.

Get them to DO something, anything
I also loathe when celebs are brought out to Australia and they don't really...do anything. I've never understood the whole bringing a singer here thing and then they don't sing? Someone please explain. Often they just stand there and say a few garbled words and that's it - it's just celebrity endorsement for the sake of it. YAWN.

A great celebrity & charity combination can literally mean the world of difference.
Obviously a celebrity face to any charity is going to help raise their profile and have a seriously beneficial impact for a fabulous cause. It means so much more when the celebrity in question has been personal affected by the cause/s they represent - it goes well beyond the 'celebrity endorsement for the sake of it' factor. The perfect example here? Lara Bingle as Ambassador for Bowel Cancer Australia. I remember having a discussion several years ago over dinner with some journos, and we pointed out that although Bowel Cancer kills MORE people every year in Australia than Breast Cancer does, it's not as 'glamorous' and few would put their hand up to be the face of it. We actually started to brainstorm ways to raise the profile of the cause, and it's something that has stayed in my mind for some time. When Lara's father sadly passed away from the illness, it became a way for her to carry his legacy. I think it's a wonderful example of a great celebrity endorsement.

Your homework, if you're doing Dry July like me and have nothing better to do, is to read the papers, tabloids & blogs this weekend and tell me who the Next Big Thing is... ;)

xxx Tiff

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