The Trials and Tribulations of Celebrity Spokespeople

Guest post by Tracey Cassidy of RoseComm.

This is a guest post by Tracey Cassidy of RoseComm.

Over the years, I’ve worked on several communications campaigns that involved celebrity spokespeople: Sarah Ferguson for Weight Watchers and golf legend Jack Nicklaus for Stryker Orthopedic, to name two. I also spent the early part of my career in the entertainment world working at publisher Wenner Media, where a celebrity appeared on the cover of every issue of Rolling Stone and US Weekly.

Rather than being starstruck, I’ve always been skeptical of programs that rely too heavily on celebrity endorsements. There are too many cases in which this tactic backfires. I know we live in a celebrity-driven culture, but all humans are fallible and imperfect. Even those with positive personality traits can have skeletons in the closet or get caught with their proverbial pants down. If you doubt this notion, just think about Bill Cosby, Martha Stewart, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, OJ Simpson, Chris Brown, Sharon Stone, Kobe Bryant, Kate Moss, Kirstie Alley, Michael Phelps, et cetera…and that’s only a snippet of a long list of celebrities “gone wild.”

The recent incident with Jared Fogle is yet another example of the risk brands take with celebrity spokespeople. In this example, Subway took a different approach by bringing Jared’s unique weight-loss story into the spotlight. Over time, Fogle became a celebrity through his affiliation with the brand. Fogle appeared in more than 300 advertisements over the years and helped the sandwich chain sell quite a few turkey and tuna subs. But was it all for naught? Only time will tell how this will impact the chain, but the associations stemming from the CEO of Fogle’s charity and his involvement in a child pornography scandal will undoubtedly transfer negatively to the Subway brand.

As noted in a Forbes article last year, celebrity endorsements are not always worth the cost. It’s difficult to defend a campaign that is narrowly focused on one individual. As with financial investing, it’s important to diversify your communications tactics so that you aren’t left in a lurch, whether your spokesperson is caught up in a child pornography investigation or faces a jail sentence due to insider trading.

I believe you can’t trust celebrities or brand ambassadors with your brand image. There is just too much at stake. Perhaps cereal brands were on to something when they created fictitious characters to represent their brands.

If you are considering a campaign that includes a celebrity spokesperson, think through the following points:

  • Diversify, Diversify, Diversify: Celebrity endorsements should be part of a broader strategic program that delivers on brand goals. The tactic should be carefully executed and should never be the crux of an entire campaign
  • Plan for Every Possible Crisis: When working with a celebrity spokesperson, ensure you have a crisis communications protocol in place and at the ready. Think through at least five possible scenarios and make sure your positioning and messaging is bullet-proof
  • Analyze the Risks and Rewards: Force your communications team to closely examine the pros and cons of celebrity affiliation. Involve counterparts in your legal and financial departments to understand the broader implications of celebrity involvement

The next time you go for lunch, will you Eat Fresh? Or will you be overcome by negative feelings about Subway and lose your appetite?

Tracey Cassidy is SVP & Director of Client Services at Hoboken, New Jersey’s RoseComm.