Name-dropping has been part of social hobnobbing since forever. There's an art to it and, if done subtly, can lend well-versed practitioners a boost in the estimations of the people around them. On the other hand, when done poorly it can be social suicide. We've all met 'that guy'; you know, the one likely to answer any question with "Well, as my good friend so-and-so would say..." For a while now, brands have been looking to associate with celebrities for the same reason, and the ones that do it well are cashing in big time.
One of the earliest 'official and recorded' celebrity endorsements was in the late 19thC, and of course, the product was an alcoholic beverage – a wine called Vin Tonique Mariani. The celebrity, believe it or not, was Pope Leo XIII, who carried it around in a hip flask and awarded it a gold medal from the Vatican. The kicker of the story is that the wine was made up of cocaine mixed with ethyl alcohol! Since cocaine had only recently been discovered and was being used medicinally, its dangers were not completely understood and it certainly hadn't developed the stigma it now carries. Nonetheless, the Pope endorsed the wine's ability to cure illness, and its sales soared.
These days the practice of aligning brands with celebrities is commonplace, especially in the alcohol sector. However, as Jason Stewart puts it, there is a very fine line between using your influence wisely, and greedily destroying it.
"Celebrities definitely build affinity and aspiration, yet when the public know that they are being paid for their relationship, we stop believing," says Stewart, co-founder and managing director of South Africa's first specialist Word-of-Mouth Marketing (WOMM) Agency. "In the case of Beyonce who endorses three different perfumes at the same time (True Star, Diamonds, Heat) we know she probably doesn't wear them herself, but we will be more inclined to try them because of her association. Yet, if we knew for sure that Beyonce absolutely loved one of them and wore it on special occasions, sales would increase drastically because it would mean a lot more to us."
It is clear that, as with name-dropping at a dinner party, there is a right way for a celebrity to support a brand and a wrong way. Ultimately, it boils down to whether or not the public believes that the endorsement is genuine. Also, as Stewart points out, it's more difficult for people to draw the association with the product if the celebrity is aligned with too many brands.
That said, the power of brand endorsement can be astonishing. In December 2007, burlesque entertainer Dita Von Teese became the new face of Cointreau as its global brand ambassador. Early the following year she created a unique performance, the "Be Cointreauversial Show", for select audiences around the world. What was intended to be a two year partnership is still going strong, and her style, charisma, femininity and daring performances, often in a giant cocktail glass, continue to set tongues wagging and brand-awareness rocketing in the in the intended female target market.
Busta Rhymes had a similar effect when the song Pass The Courvoisier sent sales of the French cognac soaring, and more recently P Diddy's heavy involvement in the marketing of Ciroc French Vodka saw returns of 48% growth in 2010. The influence of hip hop stars has not escaped South African marketers, with local rapper Pro taking the mantle as Fish Eagle Brandy's latest ambassador and international superstar Jamie Foxx representing Oude Meester.
The effectiveness of well-executed celebrity endorsements is there for all to see as brands continue to ride A-list coattails all the way to the bank. The trick to maximising return on investment lies in first finding the star that reflects your brand values, and then convincing the public that the endorsement is genuine.
Sound easy? It isn't.
Examples of other celeb endorsements of alcohol brands:
- Bruce Willis — Sobieski Vodka
- P Diddy — Ciroc Vodka
- Kim Kardashian — Midori Melon
- Eva Longoria — Nuvo Sparkling Liquor
- Lance Armstrong — Michelob Ultra
- Willem Dafoe — Jim Beam
- Dan Aykroyd — Crystal Head Vodka
- Jay-Z — Armand de Brignac
- Rihana — Jameson Whiskey
- Amber Rose — Smirnoff Vodka
- Various celebs — Campari (calendar)
- T.I. — Patrón Tequila