5 Mistakes for Brands to Avoid When Choosing a Celebrity Endorser

It's important to make sure you do your research to save your reputation

After filming an insensitive video in Japan's Aokigahara forest, Logan Paul faced immense backlash, making him a risky celeb to partner with. Getty Images
Headshot of Janet Comenos

Selecting a celebrity partner is a high risk, high reward decision. With the wrong celebrity partner, a brand can tarnish its image and alienate consumers. But if chosen wisely, the celebrity can elevate the brand’s image, increase appeal with target customers and potentially change the trajectory of that brand. Brands tend to approach these decisions in a subjective manner. We all have our own biases, but personal bias should not define a multi-million-dollar strategy.

Here are five mistakes often seen when a brand is choosing the celebrity to endorse them.

Falling victim to internal bias

Many times, the celebrity selection process begins with the brand team sitting around a table talking about celebrities they like and know and even celebrities their children or spouses like. This is never more apparent than in brands whose marketing teams are largely composed of older males who are clearly investing in celebrities that are largely relevant to—you guessed it—older males. Instead, it is important to consider the opinions of consumers who look just like your brand’s target customers.

Relying on vanity metrics

Marketers will often think they’re taking a rigorous approach to selecting celebrity talent, but they are typically only beginning to scratch the surface in regard to metrics.

One metric that’s often looked at is the size of a celebrity’s social following. But even if the celebrity has millions of followers, it says nothing about their current relevance (they could have gained those followers years ago), and it doesn’t help the brand understand if the celebrity is experiencing upward momentum.

Marketers will also choose celebrities because they’ve seen recent buzz about them, for example, they could have recently starred in a blockbuster or released a new album. However, headline coverage does not help a brand understand if the celebrity is a good long-term match. It is important to understand which types of consumers feel positively about the celebrity and whether those consumers look like your brand’s target consumers.

Assuming your creative agency has it covered

Brands will often trust their creative agency to take a more rigorous approach when choosing a celebrity endorser. In reality, creative agencies do exactly what the brand might: fall victim to internal bias, sit around at a table thinking of celebrities they know and like and defer to vanity metrics. It is common for a brand’s agency partners to select celebrities that they’ve worked with in the past or to rely on pre-existing relationships with celebrities they already know they can likely sign, even if the talent isn’t necessarily the best choice for your brand.

It is best to ask your agency partners exactly how they came to the celebrity recommendation to ensure they aren’t shooting from the hip.

Blindly trusting talent agency recommendations 

Brands will also turn to talent agencies or talent brokers when searching for celebrity endorsers. The issue here is that talent agencies and brokers exist to represent celebrity talent, so they’re not necessarily recommending clients because of their alignment with the brand. It’s in their best interest because, at the end of the day, they’ll receive a paycheck.

If you do decide to work with a talent agency or broker, there are two good questions you can ask them: Do you ever recommend celebrities who you don’t represent? Do you get compensated based on this deal getting signed? If they say no to the former and yes to the latter, you may want to look elsewhere.

Not fully considering the celebrity’s risk

Celebrity risk comes in many forms, not just from scandals and controversies like a prior arrest or drug and alcohol-related incidents. Politically- or racially-driven content and political leanings (liberal or conservative) can all pose a risk to brands because they can turn off a certain percentage of your customer base.

One best practice is to purchase disgrace insurance, a financial insurance product that is meant to protect the brand in the case of a celebrity scandal. However, disgrace insurance will only come in handy if a damaging scandal does come to light.

Due to the highly subjective nature of celebrity decision-making, the celebrity selection process shouldn’t fall upon a single marketer or even an entire marketing team. Instead, you should invest in celebrities who your consumers trust, like and relate to. As MIT Sloan lecturer Miro Kazakoff says, “It’s not fashionable to be anything but data-driven. CMOs who want to keep their job are not claiming they manage with their gut.”

@janetcomenos Janet Comenos is the CEO and co-founder of Spotted.