Branding Celebrities

Notice Usain Bolt in any advertising lately? When I lived in the States, I used to think that Catherine Zeta-Jones flogged for a lot of brands in the US, but Bolt is striking everywhere. (Sorry, couldn’t resist). Virgin Media, Visa, what next? Presumably something beginning with V. Vaseline? Veet? Vauxhall? Velvet?

I’ve already waxed lyrical in my blog about the Virgin Media / Bolt campaign. It’s worthwhile reiterating what I said because it can be hard to resist trying to piggy-back on the fame and fortune of celebrities.  And this can work well, given the right circumstances.

Using celebrities can undoubtedly increase the cut-through potential of an ad. Celebrities are noticeable. They are, after all, famous. Or at least their faces are known. Here we have our first potential pitfall – do people recognise your celebrity?

Our database tells us that ads where celebrities are identified are more successful. This is because people don’t have to spend time thinking, ‘Do I know that person? Who is that?’, and then completely missing the entire point of the ad because of the distraction.

One of the other potential pitfalls the Virgin campaign managed to avoid is the message vs. the celebrity. Good storytelling is no mean feat (especially in 30 seconds or fewer) and you don’t want the payoff to be obscured by the characters. By telling the story in the way it did, the core message of speed (with which Bolt is synonymous) in the Virgin Media ads was powerfully conveyed.

What is more, the creative helped to identify the brand (through Richard Branson), therefore avoiding yet another pitfall of celebrity ads – the brand being overshadowed by the celebrity. This was further supported by the multi-platform approach, which ensured that you saw at least one part of the campaign to hammer it home.

The Visa / Usain Bolt ad adds a new dimension to the conversation on celebrity though.

Doesn’t the Visa ad do all of the above?

I think so, with the possible exception of branding. Certainly Visa’s innovation is conveyed cleverly in the ad – it is the hero of the story, rather than Bolt.

So, the concerns about branding aren’t because the brand is overshadowed by celebrity but because Virgin was first to market with a Bolt campaign. I would be interested to see how much misattribution there is. Possibly it merely reminds consumers of the Virgin campaign and Visa will get some credit too. Many of us here think that it is more likely to do something for Virgin than for Visa.

But I hope that Visa gets some credit – because it is a great TVC.

So what’s the moral of this story? Celebrities can do something for your brand, if leveraged in the right way. But tread carefully where another brand has already formed a link with a celebrity because it’s just possible that you might not get the best pay-off.  

  • . gotnoteef

    misled by a headline – I thought this was going to be about prodding members of One Direction with a hot poker!

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