Using Celebrities? Never Ignore the Past.

Whether it’s David Beckham donning affordable clothing for H&M, Bieber sporting Calvin Klein briefs or Beyoncé telling us “You’re worth it”, the use of celebrities in advertising is universally accepted as an easy way to create a personality, public interest and sales for a brand. Through McCracken’s Meaning Transfer Theory (1989), it is believed that the image and values associated with the celebrity at hand will transfer over to the brand they are being paid so heavily to endorse. So far, so good, right? Here, the brand has chosen a suitable celebrity to match their product or service, in the almost guaranteed hope that the sales curve will incline- a sure thing in the minds of the ‘suits’ upstairs. But is the use of celebrities counter-productive for brands using their services in the future? Is there an obvious downfall brands seem to be missing or even ignoring?

This downfall I talk about is best explained through the use of an analogy. For example, with brands literally knocking at the Beckham household’s door for the chance to use his image in an upcoming advertisement, the world-renowned icon himself is bound to endorse multiple products in his lifetime. We’ve already seen the Essex-born star endorse such brands as Emporio Armani and H&M, but is there an inherent issue with switching between products that reside in the same category? Here, if Beckham were to endorse H&M first and then years later be the face of Armani’s new menswear range, surely the affordable, accessible-to-all image of H&M would then be carried- through Beckham-to the exclusive, luxury brand that is Emporio Armani; a transfer of values and ‘image’ destined to extinguish the latter’s premium brand positioning built through years of promotion.

Arguably however, this switch could work in the secondly-endorsed brand’s nature. For example, with Beckham in fact endorsing Armani before going to work with H&M, this premium image linked to Beckham through its associations with the exclusive clothing brand could in fact be transferred over to H&M; thus allowing the latter to attain a higher level of perceived quality and social approvability as a result of Beckham’s ‘carry-over effect’ from one brand to the other. Here, H&M have arguably borrowed a portion of  Armani’s high-end image.

This issue in the implementation of celebrities within adverts is seemingly not considered when choosing such a notorious star to endorse a brand’s products. However, it is my belief that being certain of the person’s history regarding other brands they’ve endorsed is vital in order to avoid a previous brand’s ‘lower quality’ image becoming matched and transferred to a brand with a seemingly ‘higher class’ image in the minds of its consumers. In short, never forget their past.

To conclude, when considering a celebrity to promote your brand, it may be fruitful to resist focusing on his or her image itself alone; instead researching back through the archives to ensure that their previous associations with another brand won’t allow your brand to suffer as a result of ‘negative’ values transferred between the two.


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