I’m so proud of it, I put my name on it


Celebrities and brands go together like peas and carrots, or chalk and cheese. We explore the ins and outs, and ask are company affiliations with famous faces a fast-track to success, or recipe for disaster?
At the time of signing Jamie Oliver’s advertising deal with Sainsbury’s was worth around £1million per year. The supermarket chain reportedly increased sales by some £1billion within the first two years of said contract, proving that if the right figure is associated with the right brand, and a good campaign, the benefits can be eyebrow raising.
Tom Cruise’s Risky Businessera Wayfarers ensured sales jumped from 18,000 to 260,000 after the movie was released in 1983. And, later, Top Gun managed to inspire that same public to switch styles, making Aviators the design of choice. Not that the specifics matter to Ray-Ban, now the world’s most worn sunglasses brand.
But other celebrity endorsements haven’t ended so well, and the result can be an expensive PR disaster. In the 1980s Eric Clapton was involved with US beer brand Coors, until it emerged he was an alcoholic and the brewery was blamed in part for his difficulties with the condition.
Far more recently, Kerry Katona had seemed the perfect ‘everyday woman’ to fit the face of Iceland, then her reported addictions became too much for the frozen food giant.  And things can go wrong without any misbehavior. Just look at Iggy Pop, who went from infamous irreverent rocker to car insurance salesman, leaving a sour taste in the mouth of his fan base, and everyone else looking confused.
So how does a brand ensure affiliations are free from embarrassment? Well there are no guarantees; a public fall from grace is difficult to predict. That said, by remembering that suitability is key, a company can protect itself to some degree.
Every brand is different, so while Swiftcover wasn’t right for Iggy, Fred Perry had no issues jumping into bed with the late Amy Winehouse, despite her reputation for all-night partying and public debauchery. There’s as much potential for success with an anti-hero as a family friendly face, depending on the corporate identity, and target demographic. Just ask Levi Strauss, the brand that spent years emulating James Dean’s Rebel Without A Cause look.
Research Agency Millward Brown believes it has devised a way of predicting celebrity passes and fails. The Cebra (celebrity+brand) study took 100 celebrities, and 100 brands, and matched the most suitable partnerships based on target market, company ethics and public perceptions. The likes of Kylie Minogue, Cheryl Cole, and David Beckham came out as the people with most overall appeal, which isn’t too surprising given their ‘well rounded’ personalities.
Still, obvious factors to one side, as an evidence-obsessed agency it makes sense for companies to assess affiliations in a mathematical, or at least research based way. After all, with a little more thought applied who knows which disasters could have been averted, although one glaring issue will always remain. How to gauge what the long-term value to a brand is? For want of a more conclusive statement, that’s something really only industry experience can ever hope to predict.