The celebrity CMO

Celebrities are being given in-house branding roles but can they add more than just drawing a business into the spotlight and could they ever replace skilled marketers?

The old model of celebrity endorsement is dead. This year has already seen a raft of famous faces being given in-house job titles rather than simply being paid to be the face of a brand or product. Alicia Keys has been made global creative director at BlackBerry, Justin Timberlake has a similar title at drinks brand Bud Light Platinum and Marc Jacobs is Diet Coke’s latest high-profile designer.

Beyoncé is collaborating with PepsiCo in a reported $50m (£33m) deal that includes a fund to support her own creative projects which may not be related to the drinks brand.

But becoming a director-level marketer takes years of experience and is something that often needs qualifications and specialist training, so why do famous but untrained people believe they can succeed at such a role?

For rap star Diddy (formerly known as Puff Daddy), his involvement with Diageo-owned Ciroc vodka as chief marketing officer is much more than a one-off pay cheque. The deal was brokered in 2007, around five years after the brand was first launched, and Diddy gets a 50 per cent share of the profits.

Bringing the star on board has had a significant effect on the brand’s bottom line. Sales have grown 600 per cent since Diddy came on board and in December 2012, more than 2 million cases were sold compared with 40,000 in 2007, prompting Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson last month to call Diddy ‘the daddy of branding’.

Karl Lagerfeld famously proclaimed in an interview that he only drinks Diet Coke, nothing else

But the fact that Diageo has had to turn to a celebrity to help boost sales suggests that its marketing department on its own could not make Ciroc work.

Liz Miller, vice-president of the CMO Council, believes the tie-up is an intentional approach by the brand to appeal to the intelligence of the customer. Any activity will feel authentic because of the rapper’s direct involvement with the marketing strategy and creative approach (see viewpoint).

Miller says: “There is a lot of transparency as to where that creative vision is coming from so I think they are going to be successful. It is why more of these innovative brands are going towards the direct tie, because they are different from a celebrity endorsement or placing a celebrity in an ad.

“It’s saying ‘I want you to influence the direction of my creative, I want you to help with the direction of how we are displaying ourselves and what kind of conversations we are having’. I think that’s where we are seeing the impact.”

New model

Meanwhile, River Island claims that appointing singer Rihanna as a designer for a clothing collection, which launches this week, has more gravitas than simply having her model its outfits. Marketing director Josie Roscop explains: “Rihanna wants to be taken seriously as a designer and that would have been misconstrued if she had modelled the collection.”

It may also have been very expensive to hire the pop sensation to do so. Instead the advertising campaign features several high-profile models.

Another brand insisting that a famous person can help power its marketing is BlackBerry, which announced the Grammy-award winning singer Alicia Keys as its global creative director, at a handset launch last month.

The singer-songwriter appealed to her fans to send in photos via a dedicated website that hosts a number of BlackBerry 10 projects. The star aims to use these photos to create music videos that will be used in her Set the World on Fire tour. The concerts in each city will include a unique video based on the pictures submitted.

According to chief marketing officer Frank Boulben, she will use her creativity in the role, which includes app development and content (see Q&A).

The announcement about Alicia Keys came in the same month that Justin Timberlake, who owns a share of MySpace, became the creative director of drinks brand Bud Light Platinum. The collaboration coincides with the star releasing a new album. Timberlake starred in the first advertisement for the lager, aired during The Grammys, which features his latest single, Suit & Tie.

Rather than being just the face of the brand, Paul Chibe, parent company AB InBev’s vice-president of US marketing, says that Timberlake’s skills complement his own. “The arrogant approach would be that marketers know everything and that we have all the answers…. There are artists who have done extraordinarily well at tapping into insights. I am working together with them on our business.” (See Q&A.)

February also saw Marc Jacobs crowned Diet Coke’s latest creative director. The brand has previously used a number of key fashion designers, such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfeld, in marketing activity.

A celebrity moving into a business-related role is not always part of a major brand collaboration but often due to the celebrity’s own personal interests. Comedy actor Hugh Dennis, one of the stars in BBC One sitcom Outnumbered and a regular on Mock the Week, founded an advertising agency in 2010 which works with charity and not-for-profit organisations. The Help Agency works in partnership with clients and shares its profits through donations.

And former BBC Radio 1 DJ Bruno Brookes launched Immedia, which provides in-store radio for retailers.

Brookes believes that celebrities can add to a brand’s marketing team. He says: “Celebrities spend years doing what they are famous for, whether that is singing, acting or sports, and I think it’s fair to say they learn a lot during that time about the people, the audience and why that audience buys into them.”

Jean Paul Gaultier for Diet Coke

He adds that famous faces have to take the opportunities that are going to showcase their own brands. “In a sense, I have always been self-employed, even when I was with the BBC as we don’t work for those companies specifically – we are contracted to them.

“You have to spend your time putting yourself in a place where you are being noticed and valued as a potential hire. You’re building a brand of your own in that initial journey and becoming well-known for something that you do.”

Tapping into celebrity knowledge led to a tie-up between ex-Brazilian footballer Ronaldo and advertising giant WPP. Ronaldo retired from football in 2011 but his experience led him to launch 9ine in 2010, a sports marketing company based in São Paulo, Brazil.

WPP invested in the business and during an interview with Bloomberg TV in February, chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell said: “He’s an interesting guy. People like Socrates, the wonderfully named [late] footballer captain of Brazil, for example, was really very clever, intellectual. They write, they become politicians, they have careers after football.

“A football player’s career lasts only to their late 30s. David Beckham is unique because he still has that personality. These football stars, particularly in the Brazilian context, are very powerful from a political point of view. I would forecast that Ronaldo has two or three more careers in him.”

But when a celebrity’s involvement with a brand is not an in-house role that complements the marketing team, consumers may see through it. After Peter Andre won Best International Male at The Malta Music Awards in February, he was announced as the country’s cultural ambassador in an attempt to promote its capital city Valetta. It sparked locals to start a petition to get the councillors who voted for Andre to change their minds because the Australian-born pop star had no ties to Malta.

Elsewhere, singer and producer Pharrell Williams filed a lawsuit for $5m in damages against Diageo North America after a disagreement over the launch of his liqueur brand Q Qream. There were complaints that Diageo had failed to market the drink appropriately and to produce and distribute it; production ended in July 2012.

Whether a celebrity takes on a pivotal role and plays a part in creating, developing and marketing a brand or simply puts their name to it, the important thing is that they have an effect on the intended audience – the consumer.

“There is a bigger issue: do celebrities and celebrity endorsements really encourage customer adoption of a product? Time and again we are seeing that this is not necessarily true,” says Miller at the CMO Council.

Diddy’s in-house CMO role at Diageo provided a return for Ciroc, but how will this compare to the latest new recruits? On Justin Timberlake’s skill as a marketer for Bud Light Platinum, Miller says: “It will be interesting to see if there is a marked shift in financials and buying behaviour for Bud. This new brand is supposed to be cooler, hipper and darker. I’m intrigued to see if Justin Timberlake’s creative stamp influences buying behaviour but I think past examples show that it may not.”

Celebrity role call



Justin Timberlake, creative director, Bud Light Platinum

As part of his new role, Timberlake starred in a one-minute ad for the beer brand and featured his new single, Suit & Tie; the collaboration coincides with the release of the star’s new album. The singer also owns a minority stake in MySpace.

Alicia Keys, global creative director, BlackBerry

At the end of the BlackBerry 10 launch in February this year, the brand introduced Keys as its global creative director. The Grammy award-winning artist will be working with the brand on enhancing its entertainment uses and distribution via the BlackBerry 10 platform.

Marc Jacobs, creative director for 2013, Diet Coke

To celebrate the brand’s 30th anniversary, Marc Jacobs was announced as the creative director for 2013 following on from Jean Paul Gaultier in 2012. Jacobs has starred in a short film celebrating his own coke hunk moment and has designed limited edition bottles and cans.


Beyoncé, creative collaboration, Pepsi

In what is allegedly a $50m deal, Pepsi and Beyoncé announced they would be working together. The first print ad launched in February 2013 and cans bearing the singer’s face, created by both parties, will be released in March. The deal involves a fund for the singer to co-create relevant content.

Victoria Beckham, creative collaboration, Land Rover

The ex-Spice Girl turned her talents from clothes to cars and styled a special edition Range Rover Evoque, which was launched at the 2012 Beijing Motor Show. She acted as a design consultant in 2011 for the same Evoque brand.

Designer Marc Jacobs has been made creative director of Diet Coke for 2013

2011, director of creative innovation, Intel

Tech fan collaborated with Intel on creative projects that the brand hoped would help bring entertainment and technology together. The Black Eyed Peas singer has since released The Ultrabook Project, which involves him writing and recording a new song in each city he visits.


Lady Gaga, creative director for a speciality line, Polaroid

This partnership resulted in new products that Lady Gaga helped to shape. The innovations included a portable printer that connects to a camera or smartphone via USB, a classic Polaroid camera with an added feature of being able to see the picture before printing and a pair of sunglasses that double up as a digital camera.


Diddy, brand manager and chief marketing officer, Ciroc Vodka

Diageo and Diddy entered a partnership deal to develop the brand. The rapper markets the brand in the US and focuses on the art of celebration; he also takes 50 per cent of the profits.



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