The Economist


Starstruck or star-crossed? Leveraging celebrities in strategic marketing

Jeetendr Sehdev | The Economist

Britain’s most iconic athlete, David Beckham was recently named the face of Haig Club, a Scotch whisky launching later this year. Beckham’s fame alone has driven huge awareness of the brand before it’s even hit the market. But is this partnership strategic enough to drive more than brand awareness and actually impact purchase?

One of the biggest problems in the world of celebrity branding is that marketers engage superstars like Beckham to build awareness, but fail to consider celebrity influence in more focused ways at other stages of the consumer decision-making process. Why stop at brand awareness when the power of Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry can increase active product evaluation or consumer loyalty? Increasing pressure to prove the value of marketing demands we apply more science to the art of star power.

Most marketers who get in bed with celebrities play a risky game of Russian Roulette. Case in point: the infamous $50 million Beyoncé and Pepsi deal. When marketing research is disregarded in such a way, brand chaos ensues. Herein lies the big issue that inspired me to create a scientific approach to quantify star power, JAAM—Jeetendr’s Alternate Aptitude Methodology. By uncovering what a target audience values in a particular celebrity and aligning those specific attributes with the brand, marketers can finally engage in a strategic celebrity partnership that’s rooted in a ROI-based approach.

Take, for example, Quaker Oats’ engagement of celebrity fitness trainer and star of “The Biggest Loser,” Bob Harper. Bob was tapped to tweet his support of starting the day with a healthy Quaker oatmeal breakfast. The partnership made contextual sense, but where exactly was the brand equity opportunity for Quaker Oats? What was the true dollar value, and did Harper’s sponsored tweets influence consumers at the most critical moment in the consumer decision journey? These are serious questions marketers need to address in order to develop celebrity partnerships that transcend tactics and impact the bottom line.

From awareness to advocacy, strategic celebrity endorsements can influence different stages of the purchase process. Consider Ellen DeGeneres’s Oscar selfie with a gaggle of A-list stars, which surpassed Obama’s election victory photo by generating 871,000 retweets in one hour. Ellen proved the power of celebrity at the advocacy stage of the purchase path. Celebrities can build intimate connections with fans one tweet at a time, making social networks THE place to drive recommendations—a valuable insight for many brands that view consumer advocacy as the ultimate measure of success.

Until now, the terms “strategy” and “celebrity” have not appeared together in marketing plans, let alone in the same sentence. But data is bridging the gap, and soon “strategy” will become synonymous with “celebrity.” As celebrities are used in more targeted ways to build brand equity, star-struck CMOs will no longer be stuck in one part of the purchase pipeline with celebrity partnerships.


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