How celebrity endorsements can go wrong

The sight of an A-list celebrity flaunting a product with a brooding expression or a winning smile is a familiar one, but just how much value lies in celebrity endorsement is difficult to gauge.

When implemented shrewdly, celebrity endorsement can be effective in raising a brand’s profile or products. However, there are risks attached and a great many deals simply do not offer sufficient return on the brand’s investment.

The purpose of an endorsement is to draw people to the brand through the endorser’s media stature. But it is far too easy for the focus on your product to be lost. There is a danger of the celebrity overshadowing the brand and becoming the focal point of attention in its place.

All too often brands also employ celebrities whose image or values do not concur with their own. This makes it crucial for a brand to remain vigilant and do their due diligence in their selection process for potential celebrity, to ensure they are a good fit for their company’s profile. 

Once attention is being drawn away from your brand you must seriously consider the benefit of any such endorsement. This also makes it crucial that you remain vigilant in your selection process for a potential celebrity partner to ensure they are a good fit for your company’s profile.

In certain cases, celebrity endorsements can work. Michael Jordan’s partnership with Nike is one of the most successful brand endorsements in history; it elevated Jordan’s personal wealth to unprecedented heights and helped mark Nike out as the go-to brand for sports footwear – an area it still dominates.

Yet for every success story, there are plenty of failures. When endorsements don’t work out they can be financially damaging, time-consuming and embarrassing for the brand. Charlize Theron signed a $3m contract with watch brand Raymond Weil Genève, but by wearing a Dior watch in public she breached the terms of her contract and was subsequently sued. Such an episode can leave a brand appearing to have not been taken seriously by the celebrity involved.

The costs of celebrity endorsement to a company can also have a considerable impact on company overheads. This is particularly pertinent in the watch industry, where – thanks to celebrity endorsements – many of the major household name watch brands rack up huge overheads, with the costs subsequently passed onto the consumer. As a result, many watch brands will charge the consumer anywhere between seven to twelve times the cost of production of a timepiece – and sometimes even more. We actually know of one example which is 34 times the manufacturing cost!

Brands would therefore be wise to consider how much they can afford to spend on luxury endorsements, when the carry over to the consumer is so considerable.

But the implications of an endorsement or ambassador extend beyond financials. Consider also the ideals of your brand. A celebrity face could completely undermine certain brands and damage their integrity. If you don’t know what the focus of your brand is and are shoehorning in an unsuitable famous endorsement then the image you are putting out will be superficial and confused.

Bringing in an endorsement for the wrong reasons and one that does not fit with what you stand for as a company and as a brand will turn off your core fans and it won’t turn any heads in your direction from beyond your core support either.

Conversely, if you can find an ambassador who matches your ethos and buys into the culture and image you are looking to portray, then you have a very good chance of a fruitful partnership developing. Choose wisely, identify a personality who aligns with the direction of your company and together, you could well elevate your brand to the next level.

It’s also worth contemplating just how much impact an endorsement really has. In an age of increasing consumer scepticism, where the buyer has more readily available knowledge and capacity for comparing price and quality at the click of a button, people are less swayed by shallow promotion. The consumer is starting to see the celebrity endorsement for what is – a marketing ploy.

Longer term, It is ultimately the quality of the product that defines its success. Endorsements are more effective when joined with what is already a fairly established brand. The danger with seeking celebrity involvement is that, as you strive to lure in a ‘non-core’ audience, you lose sight of your core demographic and risk jeopardising their loyalty to the brand. If you are delivering what your customers want and allying this with savvy marketing, then growing your brand is achievable without high profile ambassadors.  

A world-class reputation is not won overnight through a piece of celebrity promotion or a flash appearance on the red carpet. Reputation is earned through consistently excellent performance, competitive, honest pricing and superior customer service. If you are delivering the excellence that your consumers demand, then your brand will achieve the recognition it warrants.

At Christopher Ward we have taken a different approach to celebrity endorsement, through our ‘Challenger’ programme. Instead of seeking out established household names, we made a decision to support up-and-coming talent who could tangibly benefit from our financial support. Our Challengers include Team GB Olympians Amber Hill (Skeet Shooter) and Will Satch (Rower) and Team GB Paralympian Sammi Kinghorn (Wheelchair Racer).

They are wonderful ambassadors: inspirational, determined and with strong ties to our brand due to the personal benefit they enjoy from our partnership, and the benefit their endorsement gives to us. The aim is to cultivate longer- term relationships built on respect and trust and so far this is what we have achieved.

The marketing world is always evolving and endorsements implemented correctly still have scope for success. The trick is identifying the best opportunities and acting upon them.

Written by Mike France, co-founder of luxury British watch brand Christopher Ward