The fame game: why brands want celebrities

There are many benefits for brands that align themselves with big celebrities; that's why the future's bright for stars, says Catherine Quinn
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The Independent Online

As advertising cranks up the pace, celebrity endorsement is big business. Whether it's David Beckham brandishing a Gillette razor, or the Sugababes in Pretty Polly tights, we've all got used to associating big names with big brands.

For the celebs, the primary benefits are obvious. Turn up for a few photo shoots, appear on an advert or two, and bring a truck to transport the stacks of cash home. If we're talking facts and figures, Gary Linekar was paid £1.5m for a five year contract with Walkers, and Charlotte Church recently became another crips-crunching high earner, signing a £100,000 contract to star alongside him. Meanwhile, Jamie Oliver purportedly earns over a million a year from Sainsburys - not bad for a handful of adverts a year. Enormous one-off payments are also common, with Justin Timberlake banking £3.4m for his soprano one-liner to the McDonald's "I'm Lovin' It" campaign, while Madonna's netted £4m for a single appearance wearing Max Factor.

For a true cash hard-hitter, step up David Beckham, whose year long programme endorsing 12 separate products earned him £15m - enough to keep Victoria in clothes and make-up for at least a week. Then again, sometimes the products themselves are enough to tempt less wealthy celebs to fly the flag. French band Neimo are only too happy to wear clothing label Tsuibi in return for free outfits. "We don't have to buy any now!" says lead singer Bruno. "And they have the style we like. Obviously, fans will always try to copy what you wear onstage but I think it's question of image first for Tsubi. It's always cooler to have artists wear your clothes I guess."

But celebrities endorsing products get something besides money and freebies. Simon Seward of Touchdown, a global brand affinity marketing specialist, points to a number of additional benefits. "I see most big celebrities as brands in their own right," says Simon. "And endorsement can be a clever way to build that. Look at Ian Botham - he hasn't played cricket for donkey's years, but we still know him, partly because of his appearances on Shredded Wheat adverts.

"I think people see a human side with celebrity endorsement, which you wouldn't be able to get any other way. This works even if a celebrity has had personal problems, because it can add to their appeal. If you look at someone like Kerry Katona, she's probably more appealing to Iceland shoppers because she's experienced personal problems which makes people identify with her. Brands can seem quite cold and analytical, and some companies in particular will benefit more from the human angle. Supermarket shopping, for example, is generally seen as quite a chore, so most of the big chains use celebrities to make them seem like more exciting places to be."

In terms of building human feelings into larger brands, celebrities can also help bring a smaller brand into the wider media arena. Web-based company have recently made the decision to take on soap star Shobna Gulati (who plays Sunita Parekh in Coronation Street) as part of a wider push to launch their brand. For managing director Harjeet Johal, it's a move they believe will add credibility and value to their brand. "We've just got to the point where we feel celebrity endorsement is right for us," explains Harjeet. "Shobna was our first choice so we were very pleased to get her. We think she's right for our product and target audience. We've just finished a photo shoot with her and we'll be using the images on our website and in other promotional materials as well."

For both celebrities and business, however, endorsement is a very different business now than when it started. Stars recommending their favourite products spans back to the very first feature films, with Theda Bara providing the ideal advocate for make-up by Helena Rubenstein. In many ways the endorsements in this era reflected the media of the time, with movie-stars the main focus of product placement. Then, as media evolved, so did the celebrities. "There's just a lot more media now," says Touchdown's Simon Seward. "There are far more magazines on the shelves and channels on TV. The term 'celebrity' is stretched more thinly so there's a wider choice of people who might fit your customer demographic."

So now we're seeing Ricardo from TV show The Salon endorsing shampoo and Chantelle Houghton from Big Brother becoming an overnight national celebrity. But the other change has been for celebrities to take control of their own business acumen, and use their status to launch products of their own. Actress Leslie Ash has recently launched Matron, an antibacterial gel which was formulated as a result of her contracting MRSA in hospital. "When I was in hospital I noticed the nurses had to wear latex gloves because the antibacterial soaps they were using cracked their hands," says Leslie. "I thought, well we have aloe vera, and all that kind of stuff - why can't we have something similar which prevents against MRSA? We had to do loads and loads of testing, but after all that the results came through, and we had a product which did what it was supposed to do, we set about promoting.

"I have used my celebrity status to help get publicity for it. It has been quite helpful. I didn't just want to be another celebrity promoting a product they didn't believe in. Maybe some people think that about what I'm doing here, but I don't really care. If I can stop one person from getting MRSA and going through what I went through, it will be worth it."

Leslie's hand gel is selling well and has gained important recognition. But what happens when a celebrity association isn't so successful? After all, with the benefits of teaming a famous face to a brand come the obvious disadvantages - celebs are only human after all.

"There are lots of different aspects to consider, but some damage limitation is definitely advisable," says Stuart Whitwell of brand consultant Intangible Business. "Kate Moss got away with it, but the whole incident of her drug use could have been disastrous for the brands she was involved in. Then there's the possibility of celebrities being seen shopping at a rival store, or generally doing things which are not in keeping with their image in relation to the brand."

Stuart also points out that many celebrities have a limited shelf life - particular sports stars and athletes - and it is these who are, ironically, often favourite for a variety of lucrative endorsement contracts. In addition, the very success of a celebrity's association with a brand could cause problems were the relationship to suddenly terminate. Walker's Crisps, for example, should be wary of their almost inseparable association with Gary Linekar. "What happens if Gary Linekar decides to pull out of the deal?" asks Stuart. "It would be pretty hard to find a replacement." And so - hello Charlotte Church!

But despite the disadvantages to allying your brand with a famous face, it is a certainly a popular and successful means of promotion - and one which looks set to grow. In a survey carried out by GMI Inc. (the world's leading provider of global online market research) 30 per cent of US and European shoppers would be more likely to buy a product which came with celebrity endorsement. In Japan and China, this figure stood at around 55 per cent. So while it's a good option for Western businesses, there's room for improvement. Over the next decade, it looks as though images of stars drinking Pepsi will only get bigger.


Celebrity endorsement is a big game. Here are the current top ten celebrity accounts.


ANGELINA JOLIE: St. John, £6.7m

NICOLE KIDMAN: Channel No.5, £6.7m

JESSICA SIMPSON: Guthy-Renker, £4.2m

GWYNETH PALTROW: Estée Lauder, £3.4m+


JULIA ROBERTS: Gianfranco Ferré, £2.8m

BRAD PITT: Heineken, £2.2m


PENELOPE CRUZ: L'Oreal, £2.2m