5 Things to Consider When Trying to Match the Right Celebrity With Your Brand

Going beyond the latest pretty face

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There’s no question that a celebrity can bring instant attention to your marketing campaign. Celebrities can serve as megaphones for your message, take your brand into a new category or market, and (in the best case scenario) have the ability to increase your brand’s awareness. But how do you know which celebrity is the right match for your brand?

Jessica Thomas Alex Fine

The answer to that question is more complicated than ever before. Today, the definition of celebrity can mean so many things. It has evolved from actors and musicians to include chefs, models, athletes, digital influencers, scientists and many more. Needless to say, brands have a lot of options to choose from. And while there are many great choices, not all of them will be the right fit.

We don’t have an app or algorithm for pairing celebrities and brands (yet), so in the meantime, brands and agencies have to rely on old-school connectors like myself. In my decades-long career of pairing celebrities and companies for all manner of partnerships, I’ve learned that the basic tenets of any successful relationship can be applied here too. It must be rooted in mutual admiration, you have to respect what each other brings to the table, and there has to be compatibility. Here’s some advice on what to look for the next time you’re thinking about a celebrity partnership.

Be open-minded
It’s easy to be set on using your favorite celebrity, but that person may not resonate with your consumers. Before pursuing your ideal tastemaker, ask yourself: Who will connect best with my key consumer and what is the message I am trying to get across?

Answering these questions is usually a good place to start when seeking talent for your brand. Your findings may surprise you. I also recommend that you don’t get hung up on how many social media followers a person has because that doesn’t necessarily translate to consumer engagement.

Find someone with an authentic voice
Seek an existing evangelist, someone who already has an affinity to the brand. Today’s audience has a sharp nose for disingenuous associations and the square peg-round hole brand alliances will not hold up to millennial scrutiny. For instance, if you are an automotive brand, find someone who already drives your car and posts on social media about it. You will not go wrong by building on a pre-existing, organic connection between your product and the talent. The collaboration will possess a halo of genuine enthusiasm on both sides.

Look beyond a pretty face 
Hire an artist to be a creative partner, not a shill. Brands often look to install talent into campaigns that they had no hand in crafting. But in a media landscape where film studios and record labels have a diminished capacity to bankroll artistic expression, brands now have a chance to provide a canvas. Brand campaigns present artists with a new platform that can be utilized in service of both their art and your brand.

Think about empowering your spokesperson by having them participate in the creative process 
It will provide talent with a sense of ownership in the campaign’s success, drive home the authenticity of the association to your audience, and it will give your brand a unique opportunity to leverage the voice and perspective of a talented celebrity. It might just make for marketing magic. There is a reason why we are increasingly seeing more artists and celebrities being named to creative director positions at companies: It’s working.

Ask questions
I commenced this column by alluding to the ever broadening definition of celebrity. So how do you choose who is right for your brand from today’s myriad multihyphenates? There is a unique answer for every brand and marketing initiative which will depend on case-by-case specifics. Do you want to emphasize digital? Do you want household name recognition? Do you want someone who can create recipes or beauty tips and tricks?

What you are really looking for is compatibility. Every celebrity-brand partnership becomes a relationship. As with any relationship, you want someone whose company you enjoy and whose values sync up with your own. It doesn’t hurt to see if your talent of choice and your brand are a good fit first. Before hiring a celebrity for a 360-degree campaign, consider talking to their agents. Any good agent will truthfully tell you whether they are the right partner or not.

So the next time you’re thinking about injecting some rocket fuel into your brand campaign by collaborating with star power in whatever form it takes, I hope these suggestions guide your thinking. Remember, life is too short—and this business too fast—for unhappy brand partnerships.

Jessica Thomas is co-head of WME’s endorsements division. She is based in Los Angeles.


This story first appeared in the October 10, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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