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.