Celebrity marketing in a groan culture

Thought Leadership

Recently, struggling Dutch brand Philips, amid much fanfare at the IFA trade show in Berlin, launched its latest HomeCooker product with the aid of a big name. Consumer Lifestyle CEO Pieter Nota stood proudly on stage next to an equally beaming Jamie Oliver, and the pair cut the proverbial cake to the flutter of camera flash bulbs.

Philips has dabbled in celebrity marketing over the years, but generally tends to prefer to let its brand and heritage do the talking. For other brands and industries, celebrity marketing is a business model in and of itself, without which the product would surely fall flat – or at least never have the sales/impact that a big name can guarantee.

I’ve been involved in several briefs that have called for a celebrity endorsement strategy – these days it’s big business. At best, it’s a short-hand way of getting some glamour, credibility and attention to a launch, and at worst, it’s a tactic that covers up a poor product offer.

Increasingly though, celebrity endorsement is a thin proposition. Although our culture still idolises celebrity, they’ve been commoditised to the hilt, and consequently no longer occupy such a hallowed place. We’ve grown weary, and we know how the industry works.

How intimately involved, for instance, was Paris Hilton in the development of her numerous fragrances, other than presumably smelling a series of proposed scents before saying ‘I like that one’? Similarly, I wonder how much a part of the product development process Jamie was at Philips, despite the fact that the product marketing eagerly touts his involvement.

I’d like to argue for a longer-term approach to this strategy, one that advocates for sense and genuine meaning over ‘flash in the pan,’ as it were. Not only are shoppers aware of the machinations of celebrity marketing, but for products and brands to prosper, they need to be culturally grounded in the tangible, with authentic story and narrative, rather than glossy campaigns in which celebrities extol their ‘love’ for product X.

This article originally appeared on Amsterdam Ad Blog in 2012.