Celebrity Endorsements: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

We’ve all seen them – companies using the popularity, persona and appeal of celebrity to endorse their products. Super Bowl XLVI featured several celebrity endorsers, including Clint Eastwood (which, conveniently works nicely with my post title). The only problem is, when trying to find a YouTube clip of Eastwood’s ad, I initially searched for “Clint Eastwood GM.” While it is likely Chrysler wasn’t targeting me, they were not even successful in tying my view of Clint Eastwood with their brand.

My experience with the Chrysler ad reinforces the point AdAge writer Peter Daboll wrote about in January in his article entitled “Celebrities in Advertising Are Almost Always a Big Waste of Money.” That being said, I started thinking about different celebrity endorsement deals. Companies spend a significant amount of money on these promotions. Why are they willing to take the risk of aligning with a celebrity? Take a look at our list below. Do you have other examples of the good, the bad and the ugly celebrity endorsement deals?

The Good

Justin Bieber for Proactiv. This match-up is genius in my mind. For those who are unfamiliar, most girls between the ages of 11 and 18 dream about marrying Justin Bieber someday and most boys in that age group (likely won’t admit it but) want to be him. Proactiv, being a product geared towards this acne prone age group, seemed to pick well when finding someone to promote their product. The millions of tween/teen female fans who beg their parents to take them to Beiber’s concerts are also likely to beg their parents to buy a product he recommends.

Cheech and Chong for Fiber One. General Mills definitely stepped out of their comfort zone with this campaign. Far from the Pillsbury Dough Boy and myriad of cereal cartoon characters, Cheech and Chong draw attention to the importance of fiber specifically for those who would have likely been fans of the duo in the 70’s and 80’s.

Bill Cosby for JELLO. Although it has been quite a while since we’ve seen Cosby talking about J-E-L-L-O, these ads were run during the days of the Cosby Show. For a family oriented company, choosing wholesome Dr. Huxtable as their spokesperson was a great fit.

The Bad

Bob Dylan for Victoria’s Secret. You didn’t read that wrong. In 2004, Victoria’s Secret chose to play Bob Dylan’s song “Love Sick” and the artist agreed to participate in the ad. Most advertising publications mention his motivation had to do with appealing to a new audience. Dylan CD’s were also sold in Victoria’s Secret retail locations along with this campaign. I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t seem to be a match made in heaven.

Alec Baldwin for Capital One Venture Card. Based on the number of “fire Alec Baldwin” comments in my google searches, it seems others agree. I am not sure if it is truly bad, but just interesting that Capital One chose to stick with Baldwin in the aftermath of his infamous Words with Friends incident.   It is somewhat ironic that the Venture Card promotion is all based on earning airline miles by using the card. Not only did Capital One stick with Baldwin, they included a joke about not using his phone on a plane at the end of the most recent commercial (which unfortunately, could not be found online, yet). I also question how many companies one celebrity can endorse before consumers (really) don’t believe it anymore. Baldwin promoted Hulu in 2010 in addition to Capital One.

The Ugly

Gilbert Gottfried for Aflac. After Gottfried tweeted jokes about the Tsunami in Japan, Alfac decided to cut ties. Aflac’s CMO, Michael Zuna, told CNN "Gilberts’ recent comments about the crisis in Japan were lacking in humor and certainly do not represent the thoughts and feelings of anyone at Aflac.”   Aflac turned this around by creating good PR in their quest to find new talent. Daniel McKeague from Hugo Minnesota won the contest to be the new duck voice.

Michael Phelps for Rosetta Stone, Subway and AT&T. After winning eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, Michael Phelps earned numerous endorsement deals. Shortly after, photos surfaced of Phelps at a party holding drug paraphernalia. Rosetta Stone and AT&T both cancelled their endorsement deals. Subway, however, created a campaign called “Be Yourself” featuring Phelps and main spokesperson, Jared Fogle.

Tiger Woods and almost all endorsement deals. Remember when Tiger Woods was viewed as a wholesome, family- oriented, athlete? After the infamous car crash in November 2009, the very public press conference and apology, the trip to rehab and the overall downfall of his reputation, Woods lost endorsement deals with Gatorade, Tag Heuer, Accenture and Gillette. Lucky for GM, they had ended their contract with Woods in 2008. Nike has continued to work with Woods even through the scandals and his poor golf performance. I question that decision and their choice in running this ad. Maybe things will turn around again for Tiger after his win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday.

The Others
There are so many examples of celebrity endorsements, it was tough to choose which to include. Here are the others that didn’t make a category but are worth some thought.

Now that I’ve given you my list, what do you think? Why do companies turn to celebrities for their advertising when the risk is so great?