When will I be famous?

It seems that the British public is as in love with celebrity as ever. Last weekend’s TV show The X Factor final – where youngsters compete for musical fame – pulled in nearly 20 million viewers. And a study by MEC Medialab says we are so seduced by the sight of a famous face that one in four of us claim that we will buy a product simply because a celebrity is promoting it. Click here to read the full research.

But using well-known figures effectively isn’t as easy as picking a familiar figure, asking them to stand in front of a camera and repeat a slogan. Brands need to think strategically about which celebrities they use; with one in four brands globally now using celebrity endorsement, these initiatives can get lost in the crowd.

The recent case of Tiger Woods is probably the best example of how quickly a celebrity endorsement can go wrong. Within weeks of revelations of his infidelity, management consultancy Accenture dropped the golf star from its campaigns. Gillette has also said it will not feature Woods in ads for a period of time.

Celebrities behaving badly is not the biggest problem for companies, though. Famous people endorsing multiple brands and thereby confusing shoppers is perhaps a more pressing issue. The MEC Medialab research finds that, when people are asked to name which brands the supermodel Kate Moss endorses, only Rimmel and Topshop receive decent unprompted recall responses, with 21% and 10% respectively within the UK. Other endorsements, such as Moss’ deal with Burberry, don’t get much of a mention.

So how should companies use famous folks better? The study suggests that using a celebrity with local relevance is particularly important. People like to see someone who reflects their own tastes and culture. The research also suggests that it is more effective to use celebrities in multiple forms of communications as part of a long-term partnership than as a short-term push in just one medium.

It appears that while celebrity marketing is by no means out of fashion, smart marketers will be using it more carefully in 2010. With fifty-two per cent of people saying that a celebrity adds to a brand’s personality, getting the right fit is vital. As there is every sign that The X Factor winner Joe McElderry will also have the Christmas number one single this year, it will be interesting to see which companies have signed him up by early 2010.

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