130: 5 Rules for Celebrity Spokespeople

Jordan WingsMichael Jordan hasn’t played professional basketball in over a decade, but he still makes as much as $100 million per year from his endorsement deals. No retired professional athlete has yet to match such an accomplishment. And no celebrity endorser outside of sports has yet achieved more than a third of that annual figure—retired or otherwise.

No small business can afford this level of celebrity endorsement, but many use this marketing approach at a much smaller scale. Regardless of the number of zeroes in the deal, the same rules of engagement apply. These five celebrity criteria should be true, if you want endorsement deals to work for your brand.

They sell more value in units/interactions than their endorsement costs.

Somewhere, Nike and Hanes have determined that Jordan makes them more money than it costs to retain his rights and services. It’s hard to believe that, but I trust their accounting departments. All marketing initiatives should be judged on whether they pay for themselves. That goes for specific media, specific campaigns, and even specific endorsers. While you might like having a particular celebrity shill your brand, they can actually be hurting your business, especially if they cost you more than they contribute. The question to ask yourself is, “Do I want to be well known; or do I want to be profitable?”

They add credibility to your product or service.

One error businesses make with endorsement deals is hiring people with fame instead of people with influence. Michael Jordan can sell a ton of basketball shoes and apparel. President Obama and JK Rowling could not. Beyonce Knowles can get beauty products moving off the shelves; Will Ferrell and Michael Jordan could not. Your paid endorser should have obvious connections to what you’re selling—whether that’s industry credentials, subcultural significance, or endeavors that require use of your category of product or service.

They don’t need identification or introduction.

I regularly laugh when I see an ad with a celebrity endorser, and they say their name or have it printed with an explanation line in a print ad. Doesn’t that defeat the definition of “celebrity”? Sometimes, I need that introduction, because I have no idea who they are. Other times I wonder who doesn’t know who the celebrity is. In either case, few celebrities can influence a purchase without first being known by the audience.

One exception would be spokespeople whose role is a quiet one but whose choice would be deemed critical. For instance, I saw an ad for a waterproof watch represented by the current record holder for free diving. Duracell does this with firefighters and medical professionals—and a relatively-unknown deaf professional athlete who depends on batteries in his hearing aid.

They reflect the personality of your brand.

Red Bull sponsors extreme athletes because they want to be connected to a highly-caffeinated lifestyle. Ford paid Mike Rowe for seven years because of his affiliation with Dirty Jobs—the kind of work that often requires their fleet trucks.

Not only do you want your spokesperson to be a likely user of your product or service, you want them to fit your organization’s core values and public perception. That proves true for rebranding or growth cycles, too, when they can give credence to your aspirational image.

Their contract comes with a clause for personal conduct.

When your paid endorser gets a public DUI or attention for racist tweets, you want to be able to get out of the deal. Should your professional athlete end up in a slow white Bronco or beaten in his SUV by his wife with a golf club, you will want to create space between them and your brand. It would be wise to schedule their payments over the term of the contract rather than having to sue them to get that money returned later.

The celebrity endorsement strategy makes your advertising a high wire act. Some brands will find the risk worth the reward. If that’s you and your brand, ask yourself these five questions before you and your celebrity sign on your respective dotted lines.

Taking It Personally

One of the most frustrating aspects of identifying with American Christianity is the affiliation with its celebrity endorsers. Politicians and pundits, athletes and entertainers regularly make the rest of us look like idiots and bigots, blind sheep and doomsdayers. Their debacles or demises fill cable news shows and social media with a lot of negative attention.

But the hypocrites that turn people off to the Gospel, the Bible, and even absolute truth as a concept don’t always live in gated communities and the tabloids. Much of the time they are you and I. It still amazes me that Jesus leaves us here as imperfect spokespeople and embarrassing ambassadors; but I think what he wants us to dispense is grace, mercy, and authenticity. Thankfully, we don’t have to be be perfect to demonstrate those aspects of his character.

That doesn’t let us off the hook for growing in holiness. It just means that our foibles don’t negate our eternal contract with an unbelievably merciful God.

Stock photo purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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