Armstrong Debacle: Are Celebrities too Risky for Brands?

Once again, brands that thought they could borrow some magic from a celebrity find themselves swimming in confusion and controversy, like poor Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. From AdAge:

Within hours, Mr. Armstrong's endorsement empire fell apart as Anheuser-Busch, Trek, Easton-Bell Sports, 24-Hour Fitness, Honey Stinger, Oakley and other firms dumped the cancer survivor, even as some pledged to continue support of his Livestrong Foundation.

Nike's livid. The US Postal Service is dismayed. I'm not at all surprised.

Celebrity endorsements are a double-edged sword for brands. When the celebrity is hot and you're slicing the competition into prosciutto, life is good. When the celebrity trips and the brand falls on that sword, well, not so good.

The foibles of even the most upright-seeming celebrities are eventually exposed and magnified by social media and the Internet, association with stars is a minefield for brands. Eventually someone's going to step in it.

Gone are the days of Robert Young and his genteel physician persona, Marcus Welby, MD, pitching for Sanka brand decaffeinated coffee. In this modern world of ours, someone would have dug up the dirt on the poor fellow and sunk Sanka in the process.

Even the great ad man David Ogilvy eventually swore off celebrity endorsements. Not because of scandal, but because consumers regularly remembered the star but couldn't recall the product. After all, did you head down to the Post Office more often because you wanted to catch the scintillating essence of Lance Armstrong that hung in their air as you waited in those interminable lines? Did you send your packages Priority Mail instead of Parcel Post, because the prestige of the Tour de France rubbed off on the recipient?

If I can say anything for celebrity endorsements, it's that they have to be relevant. For Nike, Lance Armstrong was a good fit. For the USPS? Not making the connection there. 

But in the end, association with a celebrity is a bit like timing the market. You have to end the relationship as it's rising, and not hold on until the inevitable slide begins. 

That's as hard for the average house-flipper and day trader, trying to maximize profits before the market turns, as it is for CMOs who enjoy the perks of being hitched to a rising star.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I agree with you about Lance,
    he made only a good fit with Nike out of the bunch of his sponsors. But I
    guess Celebrities and their foundations run just like newspapers or
    magazines, their a good fit for some brands and not so much for others
    because of content but they all try to get a piece of the attention.

    I guess celebrity as we know it today is also being defined differently than
    it once was. And I am sure that also increases the risk and dilutes the
    attention and/or talent. In past years when I was growing up I'd say
    celebrity defined the well known for being relevant in each of their
    respective fields like Michael Phelps is connected to swimming as was
    Michael Johnson was connected to sprinting. But today celebrity is also more
    defined by those for getting attention such as Michael Phelps for smoking
    weed and getting caught and still being connected to swimming. It only
    becomes damaging when something like that snowboarder a few years ago who
    smoked weed and lost his medal, and I am sure any chance at advertisement
    deal. Once their irrelevant there not as interesting unless they stay in the
    limelight like Snooky who has absolutely no talent other than staying in the
    limelight. Snooky has ad deals, I am sure of it just like the Kardashian
    twins. Scary right? But its that new age of attention by living to get

    That may dilute actual star power a bit but in the case of Michael Phelps
    who had a bit of the limelight for his activities he still kept his medals
    and he is still a champion. But whether your Kelsey Grammar or Cindy Lauper
    who went from 80s music star to Trump's TV show actor...its almost as if
    today there is Requirement for humanization of celebrity. Blame reality TV
    and how fake it is, but people just want to hear your downsides. Kelsey very
    publicly had a divorce, and that reality TV show housewives of LA pretty
    much wrecked his career ( although I am sure he could make a comeback
    because whether he knows it or not that show had so much attention because
    of him and his humanization moments that he could still capitalize on it,
    even though he wasn't even on the show technically ) . And that Trump TV
    show with all those ex Celebs including Cindy Lauper oppositely positively
    showed her 'good' human side and she showed that she was still relevant and
    entertaining, albeit more a NY'R than most people would have known prior.
    Still she wasn't as interesting as the melt-down of the once famous
    MeatLoaf, and the insanity of Gary Busey which more or less a humanization
    moment and disturbing all at the same time.

    Now all of those last examples point out to the Downside of a scale I
    suppose, or the downside of a roller coaster. Like I would say Justin
    Beiber has so much attention right now he's at the climactic point of this
    scale, everyone's just waiting for him to mess up and go down hence the
    celebrity power turning into attention at max potential for risk.

    I think this type of advertising is like gambling on horses winning, all
    while betting on who's going to be in last place and when their going to
    lose the lead. Brands are the gamblers in this process as you pointed out.
    It is what it is and that's why it is.


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