Celebrity Endorsers: Is the huge investment worth the risks & rewards?
COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio () - April 10, 2002 - 12:00am
What happens when a celebrity endorser gets involved in a public scandal or, worse, dies? Will the product lose consumer support or perish? What will Talk & Text advertising execution be after Rico Yan’s untimely death? Where will Enervon Prime go after the brutal murder of Nida Blanca? Is the huge investment in the celebrity advertising approach worth the risks and the rewards?

The use of celebrities in mainstream advertising is a common marketing communication strategy. In such an approach, the advertiser gets a lot of help from personalities that possess certain phenomenal characteristics to tell the product’s story. All the popularity, glamour and charisma attached to a movie star, a sports hero, a TV personality, or even a politician are sold and purchased as the product’s own.

A large part of local television commercials feature celebrities. Many companies have had considerable successes using famous names and faces. Sharon Cuneta leads the way, figuring in multi-category endorsements–from Alaska Milk to Del Monte Pineapple Juice to Goodwill Bookstore to McDonald’s among a long list of other notable brands. Aga Muhlach competes toe to toe with Sharon–Argentina Corned Beef, Agfa, and Jollibee, to name a few. Other high-profile endorsers include Michael V for Joy Ultra and Bingo Biscuits, Efren "Bata" Reyes for San Miguel Beer and McDonald’s, Regine Velasquez for Digitel, Cesar Montano for Hanford, Angel Aquino and most recently Gretchen Baretto for Pantene, Jolina Magdangal for Ligo Sardines and CAP Insurance, and Senator Loren Legarda for Ariel Detergent Powder.
The Upside
The need for brands to use luminaries in advertising is most felt when the concerned brand has very close substitutes available; when there is a need to create a unique and clear differentiation for the brand, and when the brand has to make an impact at its introductory stage.

Marketing people use celebrity endorsements for very good reasons. Research has indicated that target prospects are more likely to choose goods and services endorsed by celebrities than those without such endorsements. Celebrities facilitate instant awareness and immediate attention. In this era of sound bites, channel surfing, visual orientation and quick newspaper scanning, there is great demand for people’s time and focus. For instance, Touch Mobile’s commercial with Aga and Charlene Muhlach is more likely to keep a channel surfer glued to the channel versus a commercial with unknown talents. People want to see Janice de Belen pitching for Petron Gasul, Paolo Bediones making a sale for Rejoice, Arnold Clavio talking positively for Great Taste, Maricel Soriano looking at you straight in the eye as she mouths the proposition for Green Cross, and others of such celebrity.

Celebrities can provide testimony for a product or service – particularly when the product has contributed to their status. Consumers will more likely try Del Monte Pineapple Juice endorsed by Sharon Cuneta since she has openly stated that she regularly drinks it. This kind of relationship can increase a consumer’s belief and trust in the product and its benefits. Charismatic celebrities can also define, refresh, and add dimension to the brand image. Bayo was re-launched with a lot of help from international star Lea Salonga, while Penshoppe continues to expand its business using youthful Cogie Domingo. Tessie Tomas’ presence in Del Monte Tomato Sauce commercials adds strength to its smart-housewife-and-mother personality, while Martin Nievera’s command for Gift Gate advertising reinforces its fun and "childlike" equity.
The Downside
On the other hand, there are can be some negative consequences to using celebrities as endorsers. Despite the potential benefits they can provide, celebrity advertising increases the marketer’s financial risk. In a report released by the Cyber-Journal of Sport Marketing, it was revealed that Pepsi paid Shaquille O’Neal US$25 million to endorse the popular soda brand. Tiger Woods received US$40 million from Nike to support the company’s youth marketing campaign. We wonder what the figure is for Michael Jordan.

Locally, payment for celebrity endorsers ran into millions of pesos as well. Sharon Cuneta’s talent fee is huge, but to a lot of advertisers, it is worth the investment. The sales of Big Macs shot up when she took a bite of it in a McDonald’s TV commercial. Goodwill Bookstore got a refreshing take as a friendly, family bookstore when she made a sincere pitch for it, while Fuji got a big shot in the arm with her and Yaya Loring’s presence in its ad. Her endorsement of small, unheard-of brands without a doubt has a legitimizing effect.

Large companies may not have a problem spending millions to acquire the fame and glamour of a movie star or a sports icon, but the small ones may struggle to afford it. At some point, it may be wiser to invest marketing funds in more print space or radio and TV time rather than spending precious money on expensive celebrity talent fees.

Losses are tremendous if something goes awry with a celebrity endorser. OJ Simpson and his endorsement of Hertz Rent A Car and several other international brands were jeopardized when he figured in a scandal that rocked the world. Mike Tyson’s rape charges and corresponding jail sentence greatly affected his product testimonies. Locally, Robin Padilla’s endorsement of a beer brand has been allegedly cut short because of his "bad boy" image in reel and real life. Pops Fernandez and Martin Nievera’s endorsement of mass consumer brands was likewise put in danger when blind items in entertainment columns started a guessing game on the showbiz couple’s imminent separation.

"When a negative image of the celebrity is portrayed, a tainted picture is also painted for the company or brand, making it difficult to gain consumer trust to support the organization or buy the product," report Amy Dyson and Douglas Turco of Illinois State University. Although there is no way to guarantee that detrimental incidents like these won’t occur, Dyson and Turco continue, "some situations may be prevented by evaluating the proposed celebrity’s personal and professional behavior to determine if they may be vulnerable to negative situations."
The Fred Principle
Choosing celebrity endorsers is vital to the success of an ad campaign. Dyson and Turco offer the FRED concept. Both see this as the foundation of a successful endorser selection.

F is for Familiarity.
The target market must be aware of the person, and perceive him or her as empathetic, credible, sincere and trustworthy.

R is for Relevance.
There should be a meaningful link between the advertised brand and the celebrity endorser, and more important, between the celebrity endorser and the defined target market. The audience must be able to identify with the person. For instance, the jologs market can relate to a Judy Ann Santos, Broad C housewives can empathize with a Nova Villa or a Lani Mercado, and Filipino men can easily connect with a Fernando Poe Jr. or an Eddie Garcia. If consumers can immediately associate with an endorser, they will feel more predisposed to accepting, buying and preferring the brand to competition.

E is for Esteem.
Consumers must have the utmost respect and confidence for the celebrity. Sharon, Lea, and Aga have these. So do Donita Rose, Mel Tiangco, the women of F, and Miriam Quiambao, among others. The public respect them because of their distinguished careers and unassailable salesmanship.

D is for Differentiation.
The target consumers must see the endorser as a cut above the rest. If there is no perceived disparity among celebrities, then the strategy will not work. Michael Jordan is an example of an international celebrity that rises above the clutter. This proves to be a huge contributory factor to his effectiveness as an endorser. "The FRED concept is not a guarantee to success, but it can serve as a guideline when selecting a spokesperson. Each organization and its objectives are different, and should be evaluated on an individual basis," Dyson and Turco enthuse.

Few studies have actually compared celebrity advertising to the non-celebrity approach, and results of such studies reveal that ads with celebrity spokespersons will have greater effectiveness as measured by higher scores on ad believability and purchase intent than those with none. But such is not always the case. Some product stories gain notice and recognition without help from celebrity endorsers. They are sold on the basis of its uniqueness, competitiveness and cut-through abilities.

There is little doubt though that using a celebrity in advertising is a common marketing communication approach. Advertisers will continue to consider it. Yet it cannot guarantee foolproof success. But we can work hard on it. Our celebrity endorsement strategy must be integrated with target market characteristics, and the other elements of the marketing mix such as product design, branding, packaging, and pricing. The message execution that will be mouthed by the celebrity must likewise be made clear and single-minded.

So who will be the next celebrity that can make the cash register ring?
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For comments, e-mail bongo@vasia.com or bongo@campaignsandgrey.net

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