In the hit-or-miss world of celebrity tie-ups, Johnnie Walker’s Bruce Lee is wide of the mark

The power of celebrity has never been greater and in the wake of Andy Murray’s Wimbledon victory, the national press has been obsessed with the cash value of endorsement or sponsorship.


But the real value for marketers is how a celebrity tie-up engages with the target audience and brings the brand front of mind. All the advice from the professionals regarding the marriage of celebrities and brands is that the partnership should ring true – there must be authenticity for it to be credible in the minds of the customer and help them consider the product or service anew.

If the spectrum of celebrity tie-ups runs from credible and sophisticated to possibly muddled and clumsy, then there are examples of recent vintage from both ends – Heston Blumenthal and his partnership with Sage (owned by the Breville Group) and Diageo’s Bruce Lee campaign (see page 4) for Johnnie Walker, targeting mainland China.

Sage by Heston Blumenthal brings together a celebrity chef and mass market kitchen appliances like tea makers and juicers. How well does that fit? Well, the unique selling point of this particular celebrity chef is the way he brings science to the art of cookery and the Sage devices help him achieve that. According to the agency behind the campaign, Blumenthal has been to the technology labs and been involved in developing some of the range. Credibility clinched.

The fact that Lee is actually dead is not a major concern to me. Many celebrities from Gene Kelly to Marilyn Monroe have been exhumed for campaigns and I presume it cannot happen without the sign-off from their relatives and estate. It’s the credibility gap that sticks out like a sore thumb. The public perception, and there seems nothing to contravene this, is that Lee was pretty much teetotal so his use to promote Johnnie Walker seems a desperate attempt to find and utilise an international Asian superstar, of which there are not that many. He’s also speaking Mandarin, not his
native Cantonese.

However, while there have been some voices raised in protest, the majority of the target market seems happy with the choice. Is that because the mainland Chinese market has been less exposed to advertising and so is less sophisticated and less likely to question the levers being pulled? It’s a good guess. But if that’s true, does it excuse lazy marketing? Let’s see if the campaign is rolled out beyond China and if so, how it is received.

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