I just read Julie Creswell's piece, "Nothing Sells Like Celebrity" in the Times this morning about the power celebrity endorsements have in the marketplace. It proved the effectiveness of these endorsements for raising awareness, even breathing new life into new brands. But it didn't answer a question that has been in my subconscious for a while now, as I've thumbed through magazines and seen television ads featuring such stars as Diddy, Beyonce, and Lance Armstrong: are we reaching a saturation point with celebrity endorsements, when I can't even remember what these folks are promoting?
There was a period a few years ago around the time that Michael Jordan was about to retire when I could swear I saw him endorsing EVERYTHING but feminine hygeine products--from hot dogs to men's underwear. I wondered if he would try to sell me an insurance policy next. I always admired Jordan but began to dismiss his ads because of his indiscriminating selection of products. Similarly, "hot" stars like Rihanna are heading down that path by lending themselves to brands with weak tie-ins some marketing executives made, such as her latest endorsement of the Totes brand umbrella, a concept derived from her 2007 hit, "Umbrella."
But here's the thing: It's working! The Rhianna ads and a tie-in line of rhinestone encrusted umbrellas has opened a whole new market for Totes, just as releasing the visually lush, if not opaque, Nicole Kidman spots for Chanel #5, with Baz Luhrman's direction in 2003, revived the old brand's sales by 30 percent.
So now I have a new question: Who's buying all this stuff? BlogHer's March study with Compass Partners showed that when it comes to purchasing decisions, we--women bloggers and blog readers--mostly rely on each other's endorsements before purchasing products. Does that mean that for others who are not as connected to online communities Gwyneth Paltrow will do the trick?
I take no issue with celebrity endorsements, or even endorsements. Sponsors of the BlogHer Ad Network, for example would love to inspire endorsement from bloggers, but that's just it: inspiring means there's a genuine fit between endorser and product. Halle Berry seems a fitting choice for hawking Revlon; Kelly Ripa showing how Electrolux appliances make her life SO much easier is less believable to me (I read onlne that she loves to entertain, but the public persona doesn't scream that she has much time to bake). Interestingly, the ProActiv endorsers--Jessica Simpson and Kelly Clarkson, to name a few--seem perfectly appropriate to me, as they actually show with before and after shots how the product cleaned up their pre-performance blemishes. Granted, they may have actually gone to dermatologists to clean up their pie faces, but the fact that they are willing to say it was ProActiv that cleaned them up says something to me.
Some ads play on the fact that the celebrity is an unlikely endorser, which makes the ads work. Take Ripa's Tide ads. It's highly unlikely that sans camera, Ripa whips out a Tide To Go pen to remove a stain while dining with her hottie husband Mark Consuelos. But the fun of the ad is the nuttiness of a celeb performing such a domestic task so avidly, and in public.
But more and more I see a disconnect between product and celeb, and it feels like a growing disconnect with audience. I can't help but wonder if the immediate flash of brand awareness that comes with Eva Longoria's promotion won't eventually die out if, say, Desperate Housewives goes off the air and she falls into obscurity. Or worse, she decides to promote another product, which muddies that association. Oh wait, that's already happened.
Will we reach a point of saturation, where we become so used to celebrity endorsements that, in the end, we will only really trust the endorsements of the not-famous? Or better yet, of each other?
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