And they are everywhere. The article notes the recent work for Totes by Rihanna, by Nicole Kidman for Chanel No. 5, by Eva Longoria for L’Oreal Paris hair color, by Jessica Simpson for Proactive, Jamie Lee Curtis for Dannon Activia yogurt, and Ellen DeGeneres for American Express
But the article reports a muddle in the model.
One Davie Brown category in which most celebrities appear vulnerable is trust. Celebrities are recognizable and appealing, but are often viewed with skepticism. “Trust always seems to be the lowest score among celebrities,” observes Matt Fleming, a Davie Brown account director who helps brands evaluate celebrity talent.
This is a puzzle. If consumers buy products because celebrities are endorsing them, doesn’t this imply that they must trust the good opinion of the celebrity. But if they don’t trust them, um, why do they buy the product so endorsed?
I believe that this puzzle tells us something useful It says that we are wrong to think about celebrity endorsement as endorsement. The celebrity is not speaking on behalf of the product. They are not declaring their approval. This is why the consumer can find the celebrity untrustworthy and effective. The model has a muddle because the model is wrong.
So what is the celebrity doing here? When Rihanna appears with Totes, when Ellen DeGeneres speaks for American Express, what is happening? I believe that what the celebrity does is lend their meanings to the brand. Some part of Rihanna’s glamor is made resident in Totes. Some part of Ellen’s humor is made resident in American Express.
Celebrity endorsement is a process of building band meanings out of celebrities. If we think of the celebrity as a brand (and all celebrities do), then the celebrity endorsement is the transfer of meanings from one brand (Ellen) to another (Amex). This is simple meaning transfer. For a more detailed treatment of the argument, see my article on this topic (as below).
This is not an extraordinary complicated notion. It was the way Aristotle described metaphor several thousand years ago. But it has a way of escaping the popular and the academic press. The NYT article parades our many misconception. But the facts are clear.
Celebrities matter to brands because they supply them with meanings, incredibly fresh, powerful and nuanced meanings. Many planners, creatives and agencies get this. Many brand managers do. When do the journalists and the academics catch up?
Creswell, Julie. 2008. Nothing Sells Like Celebrity. New York Times. June 22, 2008. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2005. Who is the celebrity endorser? In Culture and Consumption II: Marketings, meanings and brand management. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Purchase from Amazon.com here.
Ryan Holiday for bringing this article to my attention. See Ryan’s blog here.