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Do Brands Still Need Icons in the Starring Role?

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Gavin Shore, Creative Director, Jaywing

From Marilyn Monroe ‘Kissed By’ Coca-Cola ad through to more recent campaigns like Brooklyn Beckham’s endorsement of Huawei; celebrity endorsements are a tried and tested tactic for building consumer confidence and brand awareness. Yet, with the rise of digital and social media the traditional role of the celebrity is shifting. These platforms have enabled everyday people to reach out and build audiences, so a new kind of influencer is emerging. In light of this clash of culture, lifestyle and brand, do we still need celebrity endorsement and can these icons still have a role in modern day marketing?

One argument is that people are completely over exposed to advertising – we see it everywhere we go on the internet, on streets, in magazines – so a recognisable celebrity can play that all important role of cutting through the marketing clutter. On the other hand, with people engaging more and more with bloggers, vloggers and online communities, there is a different type of influencer available for us to engage with. After all, why would I trust a celebrity, when I can trust one of my peers?

Brands are certainly rethinking celebrity endorsement. Supermarket Iceland is a brand that has always relied on celebrity ambassadors from Peter Andre through to Kerry Katona. Yet, for the first time the brand has recently announced that it will be dropping celebrity endorsement as a tactic. Its new TV ad campaign will instead feature real-life mums, following internal research that showed 63 per cent of mums trust information from other mothers above all sources. According to Iceland’s Joint Managing Director, Nick Canning, “the modern customer now wants something real and with tangible roots”.

Identifying new influencers or real life people to endorse products has been taken a step further by some brands. For example, oil brand Castrol GTX identified one of its own longstanding customers, Irv Gordon, a long-distance driving record holder – who has driven three million miles in his car only ever using Castrol oil. The brand has put the focus on this customer’s passion and experience of driving cars in a new 15-minute documentary developed with Jaywing that explores his phenomenal journey. Brands like Castrol and Iceland are fast realising that it’s not just celebrities who can be brand ambassadors, but real people can be just as effective and even offer more authenticity around the product and brand experience.

As digital gives rise to a new breed of influencer, celebrity endorsement has now become a much broader term. Celebrities are no longer just the faces of a product, but are starting to take a greater role in the creation and ideation of products; or so it would seem. Over the last three years many A-list celebrities have taken on the role of creative director of a brand or product. In an age where everyday people are savvier to advertising and demand more authenticity, it could be a step in the right direction when using celebrities. A person is arguably far more likely to engage with a product if they feel a celebrity has been involved in the creation and design of it.

Yet, how much people believe a celebrity is truly involved is definitely up for debate. Are celebrities really taking up roles that typically take years of training and experience to excel at? Many brands have claimed that celebrity creative directors spend hours in brainstorms strategising. Gwen Stefani was allegedly the designer of the HP Photosmart R607 Harajuku Lovers Digital Camera. The camera features a Japanese influence and extras such as a carrying case and charms that HP claims were designed by Stefani herself.

Despite this, celebrity endorsement still presents many risks for brands. While celebrity creative directors claim to be personally involved with a product, often through a personal interest, we still see many slip ups in the public eye. The most famous example is Alicia Keys who was caught with an iPhone, when she was a brand ambassador and global creative director for its competitor, Blackberry. The collaboration was ended shortly afterwards.

While I definitely don’t expect a celebrity to make me redundant in my creative director role, I can see the benefit for some brands in the future. The next generation of consumers are demanding greater authenticity from brands. Celebrity partnerships can help invigorate older, established brands – HP being a case in point. Enlisting celebrities that align with the company’s brand values can help them reach new audiences in a credible way. However, longer term, access to a wider range of influencers, who customers can better identify with rather than aspire to, is likely to mean celebrities influence will be of less importance for brands in the future.

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