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Taking the guesswork out of celebrity product endorsement.

Taking the guesswork out of celebrity product endorsement

Jimmy Savile came close to corrupting the BBC's Children in Need brand.

The TV presenter, who since his death in 2011 has been accused of sexually abusing hundreds of young girls over a 40-year period, made at least three appearances on the corporation's fund-raiser for disadvantaged children in the 1980s.

Fortunately for the charity, its chairman between 1999 and 2002 decided no longer to use Savile for the appeal. Sir Roger Jones told the Daily Telegraph that, although he had no evidence that the former-DJ was doing anything wrong, he 'felt uncomfortable' about Savile's 'very strange' behavior.

Other organizations have not been so lucky. Sportswear-company Nike and brewer Anheuser-Busch cut their ties with seven-times Tour de France-winning US cyclist Lance Armstrong after strong evidence emerged that he had used performance-enhancing drugs.

Breakfast-cereal maker Kellogg decided not to renew its contract with former US swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, after a photograph showed him apparently smoking a marijuana pipe.

And Yardley cosmetics famously ended its relationship with actress Helena Bonham Carter after she admitted that she never wore make-up and so had no idea why the brand had chosen her.

These examples - and there are many more - show that there is no such thing as a sure-fire winner when choosing a celebrity to front a marketing and advertising campaign. In the article 'Star Value', from the September 2012 issue of Admap, Steve Yi points out that the reason for using one celebrity over another can be as simple as a chief executive's enthusiasm for a particular personality. But this is a dangerous area in which to rely on instinct alone.

In 'The trigonometry of talent' from the same issue of Admap, Jeff Chown and Mick Carter argue that identifying the right celebrity for a brand is part-art, part-science. The authors believe that maximizing consumer engagement and brand objectives depend upon: which celebrity best fits the brand's 'personality'; who will generate the most interest; how active the celebrity is online; and how interested he or she is in partnering the brand. And of course, cost will also play a part.

The big companies can afford to pay huge sums for the right person. Michael Jackson struck a ground-breaking $5 million deal with PepsiCo in 1984, a year after he recorded 'Thriller' - No. 20 on Rolling Stone magazine's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The accord set the bar for marketing campaigns for years to come. More recently Catherine Zeta-Jones reportedly received $20 million for endorsing T-Mobile phones.

Ironically, the price of celebrity endorsements has risen at exactly the same time that the distance between them and their audiences has narrowed.

In the article 'Death of the celebrity God', Aditya Kanthy, points out that talk-shows, reality TV, the internet and the enthusiasm with which celebrities have taken to the social media are all responsible. As a result, brands are no longer putting their celebrities on a pedestal or allowing them to talk down to their customers.

Today's young people have grown up with social media. According to Hannah Yelin and Katie Kinnear, in their article 'Socialize the endorsement', brands that understand how celebrities function within that social culture will do more than simply shift product; they will engage and empower.

As a result, the potential rewards for companies that manage to achieve the right celebrity endorsement are greater than ever.