Despite their bad image, celebrities have continued to court mega bucks brand endorsement deals, writes ADEDEJI ADEMIGBUJI a Brand correspondent of the Nation Newspaper.
Barely four hours after she was unveiled to the media as the Forte Oil Brand Ambassador at the Ladipo Mechanic Village, Lagos, on February 17, the news broke that singer Tiwa Savage was allegedly arrested in front of Eko Hotels and Suites, Victoria Island, for a traffic offence and insulting some policemen. The Mavin Records artiste was reported to have also removed a policeman’s cap and flung it away.
Three months after, her glittering face still adorns Forte Oil billboards, while she remains the face of the brand in television commercials, marketing activations to increase top-of-the-mind awareness for Forte Oil’s brands.
Besides, she retains her ambassadorship of other brands, despite her alleged conduct in the public.
There are many celebrities who have continued to court mega bucks’ brand endorsements, despite their behaviours that experts believe are enough to damage a brand’s essence and equity.
But this is not often the case in international marketing when dealing with brand ambassadors. Several incidences that made global headlines had brought about sudden end to celebrity/brand relationship ambassadors. Ben Johnson gave up his 1988 Olympic gold medal and lost a $2.8 million deal with Italian sportswear maker Diadora. Former World heavyweight champion Mike Tyson lost millions of dollars when Pepsi cancelled its deal because his wife said he abused her. The non-acoholic gaint also let go of the endorsement deals it had with Magic Johnson, after he announced that he contracted HIV in 1991.
Ronaldinho forfeited a multi-billion dollar Coca-Cola contract when he was caught drinking Pepsi.
Although OJ Simpson was never convicted of the crime, Hertz most likely regretted that the main suspect in the Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman murder was once their biggest spokesman. Also, Nutella and McDonalds dropped their endorsement deals with Kobe Bryant when the basketball star was involved in a sexual assault case. Steroids helped Barry Bonds break records and also led to MasterCard, KFC and Charles Schwab cancelling deals with the slugger. Also, after the Woods sex scandal came out, AT&T, Accenture and Gatorade dropped their endorsement contracts with him.
The luxury watch brand, Tag Heuer, stood by Woods for a while, but later ended their relationship with him.
For indigenous brand endorsers, brand handlers often continue to engage the celebs, regardless of their unruly behaviours, marital crisis and sexual escapades, among other unprintable acts.
For instance, since the collapse of Nollywood actress Kate Henshaw’s marriage with Mr. Roderick Nuttal, the Onga seasoning brand handlers have continued to sustain the brand deal with Henshaw against expectations that her Promasidor endorsement deal would be suspended. In addition, brands, such as Airtel Nigeria’s Got Talent, are still romancing the celeb to increase brand’s equity in the marketing industry.
“There are strong indications that Ms. Henshaw is in danger of losing her endorsement contract with Promasidor,” nigeriafilms.com said. Also, since Funke Akindele’s marriage crashed, more firms have continued to seek her signature on their brands just as she remains one of Glo’s strongest brand ambassadors.
But, in developed countries, marriage break-ups, failing drug test, sex scandals and drunkenness are common among celebs. Such infractions are not treated with kid gloves by advertisers and their marketing strategists.
“Major global brands love family-friendly images and they hate controversy. So, when their brand ambassadors get caught in something less than heroic, companies distance themselves as quickly as possible. Contracts are ended, ads are pulled, and the superstar finds out who their real friends are,” says a brand analyst in an FMCG.
But with the emotional appeal, which celebrity endorsement offer brands to position against competition, to enhance patronage, three scholars from Covenant University, Okorie Nelson, Oyedepo Tunji and Akhidenor Gloria, in their research, ‘The Dysfunctional and Functional Effect of Celebrity Endorsement on Brand Patronage,’ said many companies have suffered from the inconsistency in the professional popularity of the use of celebrities in endorsements.
They said: “The celebrity may lose his or her popularity due to some lapses in professional performances.”
The scholars also said multi-brand endorsements by the same celebrity, which usually lead to over exposure, are major factors that cause endorsement problems.
Using the “Transfer of meaning model theory”, the scholars reasoned that “effectiveness of the endorser depends on the meaning the celebrity is bringing into the endorsement process and the brand.
“Celebrities are full of different meanings reflecting demographic (age, gender) and lifestyles, thus making it evident that celebrities convey not one but a variety of meanings. The cultural meanings that are connected with the celebrity will be transferred to the endorsed product/brand,” they added.
Irrespective of their submissions, the reality is some celebrities have made some brands achieve their marketing goals while others have not. Rather, they have done damage to the brands.
They said: “The cultural meanings that are connected with the celebrity will be transferred to the endorsed product/brand.”
However, in considering who should be used for celebrity endorsement, experts advise brand managers to audit their brand ambassadors and ensure their personality resonate with the brands and purpose of the campaign.
“Celebrity attracts attention and an artiste should be able to convince and connect with the consumers through his or her credibility. A corporate brand with a core focus will go out of its way to seek the right celebrity to match the brand as the core idea of the campaign is as important for the brand as it is for celebrity,” said Mrs Mimi Akinkugbe, the Regional Director, West Africa, International Private Bank at Barclays Wealth.
Meanwhile, the Managing Director, Ashton & Layton, Mr. Gbenga Adebija, said celebrity endorsements as a platform for stakeholder communication is still evolving and their maturity is still low.
“This is because companies and organisations have not tried to achieve a strategic fit between their brands and the chosen ambassadors. The observable trend is that companies simply select a known face and name to endorse their brand without considering alignments and synchronisation between the ambassador and the brand. It is therefore difficult to strike the necessary state of equilibrium required for the optimal brand equity benefits,” he said.
Also, Adeola Odunowo of Curve Communications, said: “I feel the various celebrities representing different brands in 2012 hardly added to the brand equity because the celebrities themselves still need communication skills to integrate into the brand architecture of a company and add value. It is the totality of a celebrity’s style, personality and carriage that contributes to the equity of a brand.
“We are yet to have true celebrities in this part of the world, sorry; but what we have in Nigeria is famous individuals who are still striving to improve living standards like everyday people. So, the brands are even way ahead of the celebrities they want to project them.”
What do you think, spot on or lacking some male examples?