Can celebrities still serve as effective brand ambassadors?

Unilever's Stacie Bright and Sophie Ann Terrisse of STC Associates square off over whether or not celebrities make effective brand ambassadors.

Yes

Stacie Bright, senior comms marketing manager, Unilever
Oversees marcomms efforts for top consumer brands, such as Dove and Snuggle

We live in a celebrity-obsessed world where actors, athletes, and other personalities command our attention and vie for our affection. Thousands of fan sites and scores of star-studded magazines attest to the popularity of celebrities, chronicling their every move and promoting their every endorsement. Even the mainstream media is vulnerable to their charms; booking a celebrity guest is easier than pitching a little-known expert.

Navigating this star-crossed universe can be tricky. At Unilever, our mandate is to reach consumers where they live, work, and play. Using a celebrity is one way to reach consumers, though we acknowledge that not every brand or campaign needs a celebrity to be effective. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, for example, is built on the insight that real women are just as compelling and beautiful as their celebrity counterparts.

When we make the decision to use a celebrity to represent a Unilever brand or campaign, we are careful to choose the right celebrity. This means identifying individuals who match the DNA of a particular brand. The more authentic a celebrity's connection to our brand, the more effective that person is as a brand ambassador. When we use a celebrity and we see an uptick in consumer involvement, we know we have landed on someone who is the right fit for the brand.

While examining a celebrity's "Q" scores is one way to evaluate his or her appropriateness for a brand, Unilever also uses real-life pulse checks with influencer groups to vet potential spokespersons to determine how they will resonate with the target. After all, if we are considering a celebrity mom to endorse a pasta sauce and the target does not believe she cooks for her family, it will likely be a disconnect for the brand.

Once we have identified the right celebrity, we do a thorough background check to understand their history and potential issues. We also develop a contingency plan so we are prepared for any eventuality. In our experience, as long as you do your due diligence, the rewards of working with a celebrity can be well worth it.

No

Sophie Ann Terrisse, founder and CEO, STC Associates
Nearly 20 years of global branding expertise for both consumer and b-to-b clients

I don't believe celebrities ever were effective brand ambassadors. In fact, I have always believed it unwise to build your brand on someone else's personality.

Picking someone famous to represent a brand certainly looks easy. For example, it might seem like a smart tactic for achieving instant recognition. That well-known personality will do all the heavy lifting for you. But that also means the essence of your brand - the soul of your brand - will no longer be yours.

Since that infamous vehicle accident that occurred over the last Thanksgiving holiday, people have been focused on the risks of choosing a celebrity spokesperson. When even someone as "perfect" as Tiger Woods is revealed to have dark secrets, it seems there are few celebrity personalities left to trust. But in reality, star endorsements have been blowing up in marketers' faces forever.

A number of other possible pitfalls exist for bringing on celebrity endorsers.

What if your celebrity completely outshines your brand? The reason the design house of St. John replaced Angelina Jolie. What if your celebrity represents a number of brands - how do you ensure yours does not get lost in the shuffle? See Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, and others. Or what if your star spokesperson gets sick or dies? It happens.

Creating a brand is one of the most critical activities a business can undertake. And like all important things in life, it takes a lot of work. It means asking a lot of hard questions about what the brand stands for and how to authentically represent those principles.

In today's market, authenticity has become more important than ever. Your customers expect a level of intimacy unimaginable before the advent of Facebook and Twitter. Conveying so and responding meaningfully to their demands will not work if you are living on a borrowed personality.

Your brand is the most important asset you have: It shouldn't be entrusted to a stranger, particularly because even the best-known stranger is anything but perfect.

PRWeek's View
At a time when repeated studies have shown consumers most trust recommendations from friends over any other form of advertising, the use of celebrities is best left to one-time events, where the mission is to draw a crowd.

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