When endorsement does not imply endorsement

Ryan Wallman
January 30, 2015

advertising endorsements

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a hiring manager receiving job applications. 

Now imagine that all the applicants for the job list the same referee on their CVs. Not only that, but they have clearly paid this person to be their referee and, on closer investigation, have never actually worked with the referee.

That’s what most advertising endorsements are like. 

From what I can tell, lots of brands pay the same few celebrities a shedload of cash to spout interchangeable platitudes about products for which they give not the slightest fig.

Consider luxury brands, which seem to be particularly egregious offenders in this respect. Evidently, it is written into law that all luxury brands must be endorsed by a celebrity (sorry, ‘brand ambassador’). And this law applies whether the product in question is perfume or gold-leaf toilet paper, and whether the celebrity loves it, hates it or has never heard of it.

Are you buying it? Some people must be.

Now, to be clear, I don’t mean to suggest that all endorsements are an exercise in ostentatious futility. Third-party endorsement can be extremely powerful in marketing.

Moreover, Mark Ritson makes the point that if the association between celebrity and product is plausible, then the brand can benefit greatly. And Byron Sharp’s influential research into the determinants of brand growth has shown pretty convincingly that distinctive ‘brand assets’ (such as celebrity endorsement) are more important than differentiation to the success of consumer brands. To extrapolate a little from his argument, it might be said that the pursuit of fame – ‘deserved’ or otherwise – is actually not a bad marketing strategy. 

But the problem with most endorsements is that their use of a near-ubiquitous celebrity makes them neither plausible nor distinctive. Rather, it seems like a case of marketers simply taking the easiest (read: laziest) option.

“Identify the benefits of our product and communicate them in an interesting way? Huh? What have you been smoking, Jimmy? Just get Roger Federer in here and take a photo of him wearing the damn thing.”

Such an unthinking approach to endorsement must surely limit the degree to which a brand benefits. If an endorser is everywhere, plugging everything from toothpaste to life insurance, does this not undermine the ‘fame’ conferred on each individual brand? 

I could be wrong, of course. Perhaps advertisers are on to something in their attempts to find the easiest route to fame. Maybe this ‘Kardashiadvertising’ (I’m trade-marking that, by the way) is the key to success in a celebrity-obsessed age.

The Ad Contrarian is hoping that “some people with no talent or brains became really famous” this year, because he’s tired of being disappointed. Perhaps I should do the same.

 

By Ryan Wallman, Head of Copy at Wellmark.

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