It is easy to understand the appeal of hitching your brand’s fortunes to a star. People associate the positive traits of the celebrities they love with the brands they endorse. Celebrity endorsements are also a great way to communicate brand identity. Gatorade is “like Mike.” (And you can be too!) But, very recent history has given us some examples of the risks of this approach.
Anyone who doesn’t know that Donald Trump likes to stir up controversy, doesn’t have a TV. But last week his statements about Mexican immigrants crossed the line for Univision, Televisa, Farouk Systems, NBCUniversal, Macy's, and NASCAR. Despite his surprising surge in Republican primary polls, these brands felt compelled to walk away.
The Last Chapter
A whole section of Subway’s website was devoted to the story of Jared, the famous pitchman who shed many pounds by eating the chain’s sandwiches every day. Within hours after state and federal investigators raided Jared's home in an investigation related to child pornography, Subway shed Jared. Although no charges have been filed and despite the fact that it is quite possible he wasn’t the target of the investigation, seeing “Subway” and “child pornography” in the same sentence was just too much for the brand to take.
Didn’t See That One Coming
In terms of a safe bet for a celebrity spokesperson, the 2008 version of Tiger Woods would have been atop the list. In 2009, not so much. AT&T, Accenture, Gatorade and Gillette all cut ties with the golf legend after a bizarre car accident and a series of sex scandals. In fact, his “romantic” adventures cost him $22 million in endorsements (and his marriage).
Lest you think that simply ending an endorsement deal or even the passage of time will break a brand’s link to an individual, consider the case of Bill Cosby. I haven’t seen Bill Cosby in a Jell-O ad for years, but a quick search of Google news proves that many of the articles about the recent accusations of sexual assault include a reference to the brand. This goes squarely in the “not all press is good press” category.
People are human. They screw up and do stupid things. (Or possibly in Jared’s case, they know people who do horrifying things.) It is unlikely that people are going to stop shopping at Macy’s, eating Subway sandwiches, drinking Gatorade or enjoying Jell-O because of the “sins” of these celebrity endorsers, but they’ve created PR nightmares nonetheless.