Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Using Celebrities

The latest Lipton Ice Tea commercial, starring Hugh Jackman. It's a classic use of a celebrity, simply taking what we know of him (uncomplicated, talented, friendly, famous) and trying to attach those values to the brand.

The commercial tells us nothing at all about the product. It could just as easily be for a rival brand of iced tea or a mineral water, chewing gum, energy drink or instant coffee.

In fact, the commercial is pretty much his opening to the Oscars a few years back, without the witty dialogue, star cameos and insightful interperetations of the zeitgeist.

Instead of informing or persuading, it tries to dazzle us (probably successfully) with the stratospheric calibre of it's star.

There's nothing especially wrong with this approach. Nor is it particularly new. Aligning your brand with a current celebrity is a fast and proven way of shifting attitudes toward your product or service.

However, the effect only lasts as long as your celebrity retains currency (and your budgetary pockets remain deep enough to run your commercials). In the case of Jackman, his personal brand is probably stronger that the product he's pitching. Should he move on to the next beverage endorsement, he'll take all the the things that make this commercial watchable and effective with him and leave Lipton to pick up the pieces and start again.

Additionally, consumers are so used to this approach (no Bono, no!)that they don't attribute any lasting value to it unless,
(a) the endorsement seems believable
(b) the endorsement is 'left-field'

Let's take the latter first. While there's nothing especially surprising about a movie star endorsing a soft drink, there is something astounding about a Russian communist leader endorsing luxury luggage.

Which gives the Louis Vuitton celebrity endorsement its power. It's unexpected. It extends our knowledge of both the man and the brand. And the headline not only reflects the journey of Mikhail Gorbechev, but also taps into the truth of travel.

The message far outlives the successes or failures of the celebrity because it doesn't attach itself to them. The brand and the celebrity combine to form something new and salient.

We can imagine Gorbechev thinking about the consequences of his decisions each and every day, as we might also reflect on our lives in those quiet moments in cabs, planes and solitary hotel rooms.

Sainsbury's association with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is also successful for slighty different reasons.

Oliver doesn't simply and blandly endorse the produce of the UK's third largest supermarket chain. Watch it carefully. He mouths none of the usual platitudes about 'market fresh' or 'everyday low prices'. That would be a misuse of his own powerful brand.

Rather, Sainbury's resist the temptation to use him as a dumb mouthpiece, or pack their brand as a passenger on the Jamie Oliver juggernaut, and instead take what we know of him (the discerning, infectiously enthusiastic chef and purveyor of quality ingredients) and mix it indelibly with their brand offering.

The creators of the Oliver campaign understood what people liked about Jamie and extended that (who wouldn't like Jamie to come home and make them dinner) rather than simply feeding off it.

And in the process they create something new and believable and powerfully branded.