Marketing: When the sweet scent of fame turns sour: Celebrity endorsement offers one of the fastest ways to establish a brand, but the approach can backfire if the star falls from grace

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The Independent Online
THE FRAGRANCE Legend de Michael Jackson has been a marketing flop. Since the allegations over the star's sexual proclivities, consumers have not rushed to buy the product, which is embellished with a hologram of the man himself.

David Kormendy, a director of Dream Scent UK, the product's distributor, admits that the recent controversy has been a setback. 'Some shops are selling it, but the attitude generally has not been good since the allegations.' In the US, the brand has been withdrawn - a salutary lesson to any company seeking to launch a celebrity product.

Chris Cleaver, a director of Redwood Associates, the new product development company, says that companies get involved in producing celebrity brands because such products 'can be brought to the market quite quickly'. He adds: 'You do not have to build the brand values, because the product can trade on the qualities and values - such as beauty and sophistication - embodied in that celebrity.'

Products backed by a celebrity rise and fall with his or her popularity. While Jackson's perfume may not be selling well, other products are big business. Perfume is the main area for endorsement, because it is sold on image, fantasy and aspiration, but there are other areas ripe for exploitation.

Paul Newman sells a range of salad dressings, pasta sauces and popcorn under the Newman's Own label. Francis Ford Coppola, the Hollywood director, sells wine from his vineyard. Even Prince Charles is marketing a range of biscuits called Duchy Originals.

But celebrity endorsement can be difficult to get right. Among those who have tried to cash in on their status are Princess Stephanie of Monaco, Julio Iglesias, Sophia Loren, Cher, Bjorn Borg and Joan Collins. All were relatively short-lived.

The most successful celebrity perfume brand is Elizabeth Taylor's White Diamonds, which is manufactured by Elizabeth Arden's fragrance division Parfums International.

Its success is partly due to the fact that Elizabeth Arden has backed the product with a substantial marketing budget and because Ms Taylor is willing to make personal appearances in department stores in the UK and the US to push the product.

The main motivation for celebrities to lend their name to a product is money. The manufacturers of endorsed products are unwilling to disclose how much celebrities make out of products, but most operate on a royalty basis.

Perhaps a more interesting question is what motivates consumers to buy the products. A spokeswoman for Selfridges says that business in Taylor's and Omar Sharif's fragrances is brisk.

Maryanne Barone, executive creative director of The Chelsea Partnership, which specialises in advertising prestigious brands, said: 'These products tend to be down-market. They appeal to people who have no sense of their own experience. They are buying into a fantasy world and a lifestyle they only see from the pages of magazines.'

She adds that on the whole celebrity endorsement can backfire 'because it can be perceived as personal aggrandisement and something a fading star can do between TV shows'.

However, Ms Barone says Paul Newman's salad dressings and sauces have overcome this image problem. They were launched in 1982, according to the marketing hype, after Newman's friends liked the sauces he served at dinner parties so much that they wanted to buy them. All profits from his products go to charity. Ms Barone says that Newman's Own works because 'Newman seems to care about the ingredients that go into it and he doesn't need the money'.