Celebrity Endorsements: When the Good Go Bad

Many business students have read Good to Great by Jim Collins. Some may also be familiar with his follow-up book, How the Mighty Fall. As the titles imply, the first is a list of companies and company attributes that help organizations stand out from the competition. The follow-up looks at each company eight years later when one of these companies has declared bankruptcy and several have accepted substantial emergency government aid through TARP. If you haven’t read these books, I’d highly recommend them.

Now, I am going to pull a Jim Collins and create a follow-up post to one I wrote a few years ago called “Celebrity Endorsements: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” The post was written in 2012 and since that time there have been some shifts helping to prove my original point: Celebrity endorsements are risky, even with a spokesperson who seems wholesome and low risk.

In the original post, I included the following celebrity and company pairings in “the good” category:

  • Justin Bieber for Proactiv
  • Cheech and Chong for Fiber One
  • Bill Cosby for Jell-O

Where do I start?

Justin Bieber and Proactiv cut ties in 2013. Based on statements from the company, the split was not due to Bieber’s first mug shots being taken. Needless to say, I do think the timing of the endorsement was good in terms of appealing to the target market. These things run their course and, even without scandal, likely won’t last forever. The Bieber/Proactiv pairing may have come to an end just due to changes in his appeal to the target market.

The Cheech and Chong commercials for Fiber One were short-lived. They drew attention to the brand around the Super Bowl with their comedic approach to talking about the need for dietary fiber. It seems that the Super Bowl ad was as far as General Mills was willing to take this attention-grabbing relationship.

Bill Cosby’s relationship with Jell-O shows one never knows when a celebrity endorsement can go wrong. Cosby has not worked with Jell-O for years, however he has recently been accused of crimes that allegedly took place around the same time as he endorsed Jell-O. Many people remember this relationship and late night talk show hosts have made light of the Cosby allegations by connecting him with the Jell-O brand.

Due to the risk involved in relying on the reputation of celebrity endorsements, many companies have opted to hire actors to play spokespeople, such as Flo for Progressive or Jared Fogle for Subway. That can still be dangerous. Actress Stephanie Courtney plays Flo. If Courtney were to be involved in a scandal, her personal reputation would affect Progressive even if she plays a fictional character in the company’s ads. And Subway, which put a lot of time and money into developing Jared Fogle’s persona to represent their brand, is now faced with that very thing following Fogle’s admission of being involved in child pornography. Even if the company creates its own celebrity, it can still go south quickly.

With all of this said, why do you think companies still go the route of hiring people to represent their brand?