Finding the perfect match

Signing a celebrity to front a branding campaign is a powerful yet risk-laden strategy, but there are more ways to use a famous face than just booking a highly exposed star who threatens to overshadow the brand or derail its values with their behind-the-scenes antics.

Using a famous face as a shortcut to brand recognition is a compelling strategy. Whether it’s an A-list film star or a family friendly D-list celeb, having the right ambassador to represent the brand can boost the bottom line.

Get it right and the payoff can be exceptional. Travel agency Thomas Cook credits Louise and Jamie Redknapp, the faces of its television campaign, with increasing holiday bookings by 15% this year, showing just how valuable the right partnerships can be. But with a dizzying array of celebrities to choose from, where do marketers start to find the right one?

Millward Brown has recognised the role that ambassadors can play in growing brand awareness and boosting financial results. The research agency has developed a Cebra (celebrity + brand) study that reflects what consumers think about celebrities. It hopes the study tool will make the process of choosing ambassadors less painful and reflective of what consumers really think about celebrities.

The media’s increased scrutiny of celebrities coupled with the prominence of celebrity endorsements means brands are exercising more caution when going down this route, says Millward Brown head of media for UK and Ireland Mark Husak. He says marketers need more guidance to ensure they’re making the right judgement. “Brands are investing a lot of money and trust in these affiliations. You are judged by the friends you keep – that concept is at the heart of associative marketing,” says Husak. “It is about leveraging the interests of what people are passionate about, whether it’s a sports personality, comedian or musician. You’re trusting that you are going to get the right ‘rub off’.”

The pilot results of Cebra, which is based on a panel of 2,000 UK consumers, suggest which brands and celebrities would have a positive effect if they were paired up. Celebrities have been rated on their familiarity, affinity and buzz levels to come up with a “Cebra score” for their overall potential as a brand ambassador. The panel has identified the personality traits of 100 celebrities and 100 brands to feed into a personality matching matrix to suggest suitable partnerships for brands. It also suggests celebrities that complement each other and celebrities that have opposite traits – ideal for brands wanting to use a group of celebrities in a campaign, (see Safety in numbers, below). The panel was also asked to rate whether they thought somebody was a positive or negative role model.

Choosing a celebrity depends on what message a brand is looking to communicate, or on what kind of audience it wants to reach. Typing a brand into the Cebra matrix generates different celebrity results depending on what the aim of the campaign is. Brands could be looking for a traditional role model, or an “anti-” role model (see Anti-heroes, below) to help reposition itself. They could also use the Cebra buzz scores to pinpoint someone who isn’t all over the press to go for a more subtle approach (see The subtle approach to celebrity endorsement, below).

“The basis of successful partnerships is celebrities having a genuine interest and enthusiasm in the brand. This is important, otherwise a relationship can appear shallow and superficial”

Rachel Spong, TMW

In terms of overall appeal, Kylie Minogue tops the Cebra score list, followed by Cheryl Cole, David Beckham and Ant & Dec. This changes according to age and gender groups. Minogue, Cole and Beckham remain in the top three positions for males aged 18 to 39, with fourth and fifth slots taken by Morgan Freeman and Will Smith.

But Cole and Minogue drop to third and fourth respectively for 18- to 39-year-old women, booted out by Jennifer Aniston and Peter Andre. Beckham is rated number one by males aged 40 and over, who also rate Minogue third and Cole fifth. Minogue is bumped down to sixth for women over 40, and Ant & Dec get the highest score for this group. Cole did not make the top ten in this group. US stars resonated more with those under 40, with those over 40 favouring British icons.

Potential partnership suggestions include film star Jude Law for Starbucks and pop star Duffy for Gap. Law and Starbucks are both perceived to be calm, according to the results. Duffy and Gap scored closely on personality traits such as playful, outgoing and sensible. Actress Zoë Wanamaker is painted as the most versatile celebrity in the study, being matched to Yahoo!, ITV, L’Oréal, Cadbury, Garnier, Next and Müller. The study says Yahoo! could also be a good fit for Cheryl Cole, along with Burger King, Coke Zero and fashion chain New Look, although whether the TV star would lend her image to a fast-food chain remains to be seen.

Gillette could use Cebra to identify its next brand ambassador after terminating its contract with Tiger Woods, who came in at sixth place in the study’s list of negative role models. The consumer panel described Gillette as thorough, clever, straightforward and sensible. Matches for the brand include Formula One drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton as well as James Bond actors Daniel Craig and Sean Connery. England rugby union stars Lawrence Dallaglio and Jonny Wilkinson could also suit the brand, the study suggests.

Brands can also compare their celebrity strategy market by market. UK actors Robert Pattinson and Jude Law, for example, received higher Cebra scores in the US than in the UK, possibly because they have played American characters in their films. On the other hand, US singer Katy Perry scores higher in the UK, potentially because of her relationship with comedian Russell Brand. Brands can consider using different celebrities in different markets according to where they rate strongest, suggests Millward Brown.

Getting the right celebrity to match a brand’s personality is a challenge. But picking the right face can enhance a brand’s positioning and convince consumers to part with their cash. One in four people worldwide confess to buying a product because a celebrity is promoting it, according to MEC’s MediaLab global sensor report. The media network’s study also revealed that more than half of consumers worldwide believe that a star makes a brand stand out, showing that if the face fits, a brand can shine above its rivals.

An increasingly celebrity-focused media means the trend towards using celebrities won’t go away thanks to its effectiveness at increasing brand awareness, argues Husak. “It can’t help but continue to be popular because associative marketing really works. It draws on people’s passions in an age where it’s so easy to skip over disruptive advertising and marketers are continually talking about engagement,” he says. “It’s such a powerful lever into consumers hearts that I can’t see it stopping.”

A place for ‘anti-heroes’

Amy Winehouse might be more famous for her love of a party and disregard of authority than her creative talents but that hasn’t put fashion brand Fred Perry off from signing her up as a celebrity brand ambassador.

An anti-hero can be just as profitable as a squeaky clean role model. Bad reputations could help a brand reach a new audience, according to the Cebra study. The top ten list of negative role models include Winehouse and Russell Brand, along with the Geldof sisters Peaches and Pixie, Jonathan Ross and, unsurprisingly, disgraced sports stars John Terry and Tiger Woods. The lists are an aggregate of results spanning the entire consumer panel’s 18 to 64 age groups, but can also be broken down into lists specific to age and gender groups to further inform brands.

Just because a celebrity is seen as a negative role model doesn’t mean they can’t be used to a brand’s advantage to market a particular product. “In some cases a brand isn’t looking for a role model. Some of the things these people are about can be very attractive to a brand that wants to be seen a certain way,” says Millward Brown’s Husak.

He gives the example of Kate Moss, number ten on the negative role model list, whose alleged cocaine use was splashed all over the papers in 2005. Chanel, Burberry and H&M all cancelled their deals with the model but cosmetics firm Rimmel kept her on. It was “a statement of what they wanted to be about,” says Husak. Today, her clothing line with Topshop remains lucrative and she has recently released her own brand of perfume, demonstrating her long-lasting selling power.

The Cebra study personality match has suggested brand partnerships for some names on the negative role model list based on similar character traits as rated by the consumer panel. These are mostly based on both the celebrity and brand being seen by the public as outgoing, spontaneous and playful. Jonathan Ross, number nine on the list, is well matched with Twitter. The talk show host is already a prolific Tweeter and his cheeky side could help the social network reach out to more people, the study suggests. The number two naughty star, Katie Price, otherwise known as Jordan, is seen as a potential ambassador for brands such as Pot Noodle, Coca-Cola, Facebook and Red Bull. Her ability to talk about anything and everything is apparently a good thing for these brands. Paris Hilton, close behind at number three, has been judged by the study as a good match for La Senza. Hilton’s sex tapes won’t get in the way of this potential partnership, the study suggests.

Husak warns, however, that brands considering using a negative role model should take into account what risks that poses. Contracts should be drawn up with specific behaviour-related clauses so the brand can withdraw from the deal if necessary.

Fred Perry marketing director Richard Martin has been reported in the press as saying Winehouse was a logical brand ambassador as she had “been wearing Fred Perry for years”. Evidently Fred Perry has bought into her party girl, rebel image, and this partnership could in fact resonate with a young, social target audience bringing in new fans of the brand. Winehouse’s dishevelled image hasn’t put off the fashion label from recruiting her to co-design a clothing range for its next four seasons.

Cheeky Irish betting firm Paddy Power has also jumped at the opportunity to recruit an anti-hero. When sponsors abandoned Tiger Woods after reports of his indiscretions, the company grabbed the chance to offer the golfer a £50m sponsorship deal. Woods promptly refused but Paddy Power has confirmed it is to make a second, more attractive offer in the hope of snaring someone the brand thinks has star quality. Paddy Power, known for its tongue-in-cheek image and advertising campaigns, isn’t fazed by the sports star’s negative press coverage.

“In terms of a brand name, Tiger is still up there with the Cokes and Pepsis of this world. We knew he’d return to golf sooner rather than later. He is still one of the best sportsmen in the world and his track record speaks for itself,” argues Paddy Power communications manager Ken Robertson, adding, “I’d love to see a Paddy Power logo on his shirt”.

While some brands will choose to distance themselves from the likes of Woods, brands like Paddy Power see the benefit of choosing an anti-hero as their role model.

The subtle approach to celebrity endorsement

Marketers wanting to take a more understated approach to using a celebrity could use Millward Brown’s Cebra tool to look at celebrities’ buzz scores. Looking for low buzz scores will generate suggestions of celebrities that aren’t seen in the press that often. Cebra’s top five men with the lowest buzz are Jonny Evans, Simon Amstell, Lawrence Dallaglio, James McAvoy and Jonny Wilkinson. “You have companies that feel burnt by bad behaviour stories,” says Millward Brown’s Husak. “Brands that have been let down may be looking at different strategies. You can still try to find somebody whose values are very close to the brand.”

The subtle celebrity approach can ensure safety for a brand that wants to benefit from a well-known ambassador. Choosing someone who isn’t too overexposed also has a unique appeal for some brands who don’t want to be overshadowed by the famous face.

Brands that want to benefit from the use of a celebrity but want to protect themselves from being over-associated with one particular name can always take a “less is more” approach. Beer brand Peroni and chocolate maker Ferrero have dipped their toes into the waters of the celebrity ambassador world by using famous faces that aren’t plastered all over the tabloid pages. Both brands have managed to devise initiatives where their celebrity ambassador isn’t the face of their billboard campaign or in every television commercial break.

Peroni’s association with fashion designer Antonio Berardi spans a five-year contract, beginning in 2008 when the brand launched in Russia. The beer brand has since expanded into a collection of co-branded items including a luxury travel bag, laptop bag, cagoule and bottle opener, and it sponsored Berardi’s catwalk show during London Fashion Week in February this year. Peroni has also used Berardi to promote its launches in Poland and Australia.

The relationship is not a typical brand/celebrity tie-up in that there are no posters or TV commercials depicting Berardi sipping on a cool Peroni beer after a hard day of making dresses for the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow. The focus is on forging a link with Peroni and high fashion to further develop its premium image and market positioning; promoting the beer as a potential first choice for the fashion elite. Berardi’s and Peroni’s common Italian heritage is also a thread that ties them together. “If we are sending a message about Italian style it needs to come from an authentic voice. So someone like Antonio can deliver that message for us,” says Peroni spokesperson Gaia Enria.

Berardi says the partnership is based on genuine interest in and connection to the brand. He claims his Italian father was a lover of Peroni beer and it was a constant feature of his household growing up. And while his name is stamped into the leather of the travel bag, it is alongside Peroni’s brand, meaning it is not intended to be seen as a glory project for Berardi to show off his dressmaking prowess.

“It is about creating beautiful things which reflect the history of the brand and craftsmanship – over and above the concept of ‘I am a fashion designer so I’m going to turn you out a dress or handbag’. My capacity is as an ambassador for Peroni and not for me. That would have been an easy option but it’s not necessarily all about me,” says Berardi. “Hopefully Peroni has found something in me that works with the brand and that there is always a reason for what we do.”

The subtle approach also appeals to chocolate brand Ferrero. It lined up Britain’s Got Talent judge Amanda Holden to present its Christmas concert at London’s Westfield shopping centre in November. The brand chose Holden for her approachable nature, a good fit with the brand’s aim to enhance its emotional ties with consumers. Like Peroni and Berardi, Holden acted as a drawcard to the event, offering an embodiment of the Ferrero sentiments around sharing with family and friends at Christmas, but her links with the brand remained limited to the concert activity rather than being stretched to other parts of its advertising. “Amanda was a good role model for the brand,” says Ferrero regional commercial director Dave Tucker. “The event was an opportunity to strengthen our brand’s association with Christmas, and Amanda’s presence in a gold dress enhanced that.”

While Ferrero hasn’t ruled out using celebrities – or indeed Holden – again, Tucker is keen to stress that the use of a celebrity must not overshadow the brand. “What’s critical for us is that our brand message gets across to consumers rather than the celebrity getting in the way. In the case of Amanda, she helped get our message across so she was a good brand ambassador for us,” he says. “It may facilitate brand communications but it’s not the be-all and end-all of what we’re doing.”

VV Brown
VV Brown: Helping M&S reach a younger, more fashionorientated customer

Safety in numbers: the group

The concept of safety in numbers also rings true for brands when using celebrities – using a gaggle of them can help mitigate the risk of one of them behaving badly.

Millward Brown’s Cebra study can pair up celebrities according to similar personality traits. Conversely, it can also pair up celebrities according to opposite personality traits. The study has highlighted actors Keira Knightley and Daniel Radcliffe to have the strongest complementary personality match, rated by the consumer panel as being equally sensible, clever and outgoing. TV darling Cheryl Cole’s top five similar male personalities, according to the study, are Peter Andre, Jamie Oliver, Dermot O’Leary, Will Smith and Steve Jones, sharing personality traits of playful, sympathetic and outgoing. Cole’s top five opposite male personalities are listed as Russell Brand, Gordon Ramsay, Ozzy Osbourne, Andy Murray and Iggy Pop.

A brand could then use this information to allocate different celebrities to various parts of a product portfolio or elements of a campaign. They could choose celebrities with similar or opposite personalities depending on the target audience of different products or the scope of a particular campaign, says Millward Brown’s Husak. “A natural thing for a brand to do is span more than one target group,” he says. “It’s another way to defuse risks, because you’re not putting all your money into one ambassador. Brands could work with a pair of celebrities who are similar and interchangeable, or use different ones to reach different audiences.”

Marks & Spencer has taken this approach to celebrity ambassadors. The department store chain has unveiled its new marketing strategy, complete with a new line-up of famous faces. The celebrities used appear to be a combination of complementary personalities and edgy new identities, reflecting Millward Brown’s theory of personality matching.

Actress Caroline Quentin is to promote M&S food, while former England footballer Jamie Redknapp is to be the face of its menswear ranges. The fashion side of the retailer’s new campaign will feature singer and presenter Dannii Minogue, with her partner Kris Smith featuring in a print campaign for summer menswear. Radio presenter Lisa Snowdon, singer VV Brown and model Ana Beatriz Barros also join the fashion side of the campaign, alongside long running brand ambassador Twiggy, who M&S says epitomises its core customer.

M&S marketing director Steve Sharp claims the brand needed new faces to reflect a company revitalised by the end of the recession – the company has lifted this year’s profit forecast from about £420m to £625m. “You need to keep changing the look and feel of your advertising – and that can mean using new faces. Otherwise your advertising becomes very dull and formulaic. We wanted to offer something fresh, new and improved.”

The use of VV Brown and Ana Beatriz Barros will enable M&S to reposition its brand slightly in the fashion sector. The brand image is then balanced by the more mature reputations of Snowdon, Minogue and Redknapp, says Adrian Thomas, head of retail at marketing agency Billington Cartmell. “M&S obviously feels it’s appropriate to use VV Brown and Ana Beatriz Barros to appeal to a younger, more fashion-oriented market,” he says. “There could be a risk but it has to be a calculated one. It has been proven that using supermodels comes with a bit of a cutting edge but if you want to engage that kind of market that’s what you have to do. Jamie Redknapp works because he is always well turned out and he appeals to both women and men. Dannii Minogue has broader appeal because of The X Factor.”

The alternative view: can a tool really help you choose a celebrity?

Pixie Lott
Lott of street cred: The deal with singer Pixie Lott and fashion label Lipsy was brokered through an agency, which knew about her long before she hit public consciousness

Millward Brown is harnessing real consumer opinions about celebrities using a 2,000 strong panel, which it will be consulting on a quarterly basis. The agency claims that those opinions, fed into its Cebra tool, will help brands find the right celebrity match. Its head of media for the UK and Ireland Mark Husak, says brands are taking too much of a risk if they attempt to choose a celebrity without such guidance. “They would be making a choice based on their perception rather than the perception of a target customer.”

But can a tool such as Cebra really help a brand decide which celebrities are most relevant for their strategies? Establishing what personal links a celebrity already has with a brand is the most effective way to establish a strong ambassador link, argues Rachel Spong, business director for marketing agency Tullo Marshall Warren (TMW). The agency works with Unilever on celebrity chef relationships such as Knorr with Marco Pierre White, Stork with Phil Vickery, Flora with Gary Rhodes and Gordon’s Gin with Gordon Ramsay. Spong says Michelin-starred White had already publicly mentioned using Knorr products in his cooking before the official deal with Unilever was made.

“There is a need to evaluate the celebrity’s personality and brand fit on a case-by-case basis, based on the fit of the personality with the brand values, target audience and campaign objectives,” says Spong. “The basis of successful partnerships is celebrities having a genuine interest and enthusiasm in the brand. This is important, otherwise a relationship can appear shallow and superficial.”

Inside information and contacts from specialist agencies is the way to get the right celebrity deal, suggests Ben Curwin, concept development officer for music marketing agency Mood Media. Mood Media recently brokered the collaboration between singer Pixie Lott and fashion label Lipsy.

Mood Media’s regular dealings with record labels means it is already “in the know” about up-and-coming talent such as Lott before their first release hits music stores – a long time before a consumer panel will have heard of the star.

It can therefore advise brands of potential ambassadors well in advance. It helped Lipsy decide on Lott from a shortlist of young female singers, believing that because she is a newcomer, the pop star will be able to grow within the construct of the brand.

“There are a lot of variables that have to be considered,” says Curwin. A panel is a useful starting point, he says, but to base a decision purely on the results of a panel would be “very misguided” he suggests. “It’s more than about matching demographics, but who fits the individual campaign that is being built. It’s down to a team of people who work within brands and the entertainment industry who have that industry knowledge.”

Another sceptic of Cebra is Adrian Thomas, head of retail at marketing agency Billington Cartmell. He says the tool could help brands develop a shortlist but essentially the final decision must be made using intuition. “A tool might help if you’re at a complete loss. But you need to back things up with a gut feeling,” he says.

Top 10 positive celebrity role models

1 Joanna Lumley

2 Judi Dench

3 Helen Mirren

4 Morgan Freeman

5 Kylie Minogue

6 Meryl Streep

7 Jamie Oliver

8 Sean Connery

9 Stephen Fry

10 Terry Wogan

Top 10 negative celebrity role models

1 Amy Winehouse

2 Katie Price

3 Paris Hilton

4 Russell Brand

5 John Terry

6 Tiger Woods

7 Peaches Geldof

8 Pixie Geldof

9 Jonathan Ross

10 Kate Moss


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