Duck Dynasty: The Dangers of Tying Your Brand to Celebrities
For years companies and brands have been in love with the notion of associating their brands with celebrities. Nowadays, it's nearly impossible to browse the Internet, read a newspaper or magazine or turn on the television without seeing a celebrity endorsing a product or brand. Let's face it, celebrity sells. This is the main reason brands are quick to leverage the popularity of celebrities to create impactful and effective campaigns around them. With huge marketing budgets allotted to such campaigns, the question remains: Is it really worth it? While these types of campaigns are often successful for many brands, there are always risks associated with aligning your brand or product with a celebrity—and plenty of horror stories out there.
One such story in today's headlines is Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson's indefinite suspension by A&E after an anti-gay rant that recently appeared in a GQ's interview, "What the Duck."
Walmart and other retailers carrying Duck Dynasty merchandise have raked in a massive $400 million dollars in sales due to the rabid passion of A&E's Duck Dynasty fans. Almost as soon as the rant became publication, GLAAD called upon A&E and its advertisers to rethink their ties with the show and its characters.
A&E quickly responded with the indefinite suspension and it remains to be seen what, if any, response we'll see from Walmart.
And here's the thing. Celebrities are great. They're great as long as they don't do or say anything stupid. Look at the Tiger Woods sex scandal and how sponsors and advertisers scrambled to divest themselves from Tiger and his tarnished image. And today, Tiger's still dealing with the ramifications of those choices and losing sponsorship deals as a result. Look at double-amputee Olympian Oscar Pistorius, one of the most in-demand sports personalities in the world who, when charged with shooting his girlfriend, naturally saw sponsors dropping like flies.
So, before you decide to partner with a celebrity, be they musician, actor, reality show star or athlete, it's a good idea to weigh the advantages and disadvantages. And if you're pitching a celebrity tie-in for a promotional products campaign to one of your clients, it's good to have these conversations, both internally as well as with your clients, right up front.
The Benefits of Hiring Celebrity Endorsers
It is no surprise why brands hire celebrity endorsers. Celebrities can enhance brand equity and increase recognition for a product. For one, your brand gets to dip into the celebrity's network and fan base. If the star is known internationally, then your product gets valuable worldwide exposure. Celebrities can also help build brand credibility with their fans. People are more likely to try a product if they see their favorite celebrity using it.
With the Duck Dynasty franchise, apparently both male and female viewers of all ages are able to relate to the cast and characters. Even those who don't identify with the lifestyle still find the show funny and this overall broad appeal has translated to significant product sales.
The Risks of Celebrity Endorsement
Consumers have grown smarter and not easily wooed by celebrity endorsements. The question most often asked is 'does the celebrity really use the product they endorse?' (For instance, my wife is pretty sure that Sarah Jessica Parker does not use the Garnier products she endorses for her own personal hair color. Who am I to argue?) Choosing someone who is trustworthy—read that "believable"—is key in the selection process. Cost is also a factor you need to take into consideration, as celebrity endorsements are typically not inexpensive. You need to know the projected revenue will pay for the cost of your campaign and/or promotional products initiative.
The biggest business risk in using famous personalities as part of your marketing strategy is the possibility of attracting negative publicity to your brand based on what the celebrity says or does. They are human and humans make mistakes. Unfortunately these mistakes are magnified because they are famous and public figures. The agencies representing celebrities have little direct control over their words or actions.
Overall, the power of celebrity endorsement is clearly attractive, and the benefits (read that: "profits") can be considerable. However, before deciding to hire someone famous to represent your brand and/or as a part of your promotional products initiative, be sure to weigh the benefits versus the possible risks. Remember that with social media so prevalent, it can be harder for you to defend your brand's image due to the rapid pace of information sharing posting of negative feedback. Most importantly, make sure you take steps to protect yourself and your brand or your client.
The Safety Net
If you're going down the path of using a celebrity as part of a promotional products campaign or some other initiative, it's imperative that you not only have a crisis plan in place—before the campaign launches—but revisit it on a regular basis. It's also critical that you monitor the Web for brand mentions and make sure you're on top of what's happening in the online space at all times. And when the time comes that you know you've got a problem on your hands, know that your explanation and/or your handling of the crisis will likely be microscopically examined, dissected and written about. So make sure you know the risks associated with that celebrity endorsement before you get involved with them.
In closing, perhaps the most thought-provokingly spot-on piece written on this topic in the last couple of days is Linda Holmes' piece for NPR, where she says: "In the end, whatever the GQ piece revealed that anyone didn't already know, it's awfully hard to figure out how suspending Phil Robertson from filming addresses it." Her point is that it's highly unlikely that A&E wasn't already aware of Robertson's views on this and a variety of topics, and that this action on their part is a move to do what's expected of them by the media until this storm blows over and little else. If you want to read Holmes' post (and you should) you'll find it here: "'Duck' and Cover: What Exactly Is the Point?"
Have you hired an endorser to promote your brand or product? Have you used a celebrity as part of a promotional products initiative with a client? What challenges did you experience? What steps did you take to overcome the challenges? Share your experience we would love to know.
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Jeff is executive director of the Quality Certification Alliance (QCA). Prior to that, he was responsible for developing safe and compliant brand merchandise for Michelin. He has worked with brands in publishing, consumer products, broadcasting and film for over 30 years. Follow Jeff on Twitter, and QCA on Facebook.