For as long as most of us can remember, celebrities and top consumer brands have been inextricably tied through celebrity endorsement. Once a celebrity had endorsed a brand, the celebrity and the brand became almost synonymous, and a celebrity suffering negative publicity inevitably hurt the brand. For instance, Tiger Wood’s 2009 scandal reportedly cost Nike close to $2 million in lost sales.
Traditional Celebrity Endorsements
This deep tie between celebrity and brand historically drove incredibly specific management of a celebrity’s reputation. John Branca, a top expert in entertainment law, explains that the need for public opinion management extends even after a celebrity passes away.
Mr. Branca, who was famously appointed as co-executor of Michael Jackson’s estate after the artist’s death, describes that this deep need for reputation management drove a change in his role from traditional estate attorney to manager and producer so he could continue to make sure important aspects of Michael Jackson’s life and art were inserted as a counterbalance into a sometimes negative public narrative that persisted past the artist’s death.
Current trends, however, are beginning to show that the group with arguably the largest purchasing power in society today, the Millenials, are less likely than other groups to have their purchasing behavior influenced by the general public opinion of a celebrity endorser and more likely to be influenced by how strongly that celebrity’s behavior aligns with their own thoughts and beliefs. Support of this trend can be found in the deep celebrity endorsement power of extremely polarizing celebrities like Beyonce Knowles, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh whose net favorability can span over 60 points on a scale of 1 – 100 when assessed against disparate groups, such as Democrats and Republicans.
Consumer brand marketers are for sure watching this trend closely, but it appears we may be moving closer to the old adage of “the only bad publicity is no publicity” being truer than ever. As long as the chosen celebrity endorser’s behavior is highly congruent with the brand’s target market, overall public opinion will hold less sway.