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Celebrity promotions: the risks and rewards

Getting it right, and getting it wrong, can both have long-term effects, says Pink Key’s Richard Pink.

Imagine this – you have a few million products sitting in the warehouse about to ship with your latest promotion all over it and the spokesperson for the campaign is a famous face who sits nicely with the core message of the promotion – happy days! Well, not if the said spokesperson goes and pops their clogs the day before it ships, it isn’t.

What do you do then? Ship the product? Scrap it? Hastily put out a PR campaign regretting the demise of your spokesperson and saying your promotion will stand as a memorial to the great work this beloved person has done? In answer to your questions – yes it did happen, and no I don’t know what they did – though received wisdom and common sense says the pack got pulled.

However, getting it right with a celeb can have a profoundly positive impact on a promotion in much the same way a licensed character can. The advantages of a licensed character is they generally work within boundaries and behaviours that are predictable and you are unlikely to get the risk that is associated with having a real person as part of your campaign.

Having said that, getting it right with a celebrity can have a profoundly positive long-term effect on a brand. Here are a couple of my favourite examples. Firstly the long-term association of Walkers and Gary Lineker, what a sensible piece of initial recruitment that was – initially working against his ‘Mr. Nice Guy’ image in the beginning, but you can see how the character of the advertising has changed as Lineker’s image has grown.

He is the archetypal ‘face’; media friendly genuinely respected and good in front of the camera and you will never see him munching Pringles on social media (a massive shame from my point of view). Gary will never let his client down (now watch it all go pear-shaped…)

The other one I love is the current Lotto/James Blunt advertising which is the latest incarnation of the #pleasenotthem campaign. Its been quite good so far but the creativity behind James Blunt’s campaign puts this one quite a way above the others – it really helps that JB is also very self aware and a genuinely funny individual, as anyone who follows him on Twitter will know.

Having said that, there are a number of instances where the association has not gone well due to the actions of the celeb. Sharapova is the most recent melt down I think, and by god did those sponsors withdraw quickly. People may recall a similar situation after Cantona’s resignation from Nike after the infamous kung–fu kick. However that was creatively rescued after Nike ran an outdoor campaign showing his screwed up resignation letter on huge billboards saying ‘your application to resign is not accepted’, probably the strongest and most creative management of one of these incidents.

What do licensing people glean from this? Well, if you happen to manage a celebrity licence of a living celebrity it’s as well to be aware of the pitfalls in this area. It’s an area I’ve worked in for many years and thankfully my client is as good a representative for any brand they promote as they can be.

From another perspective, brand owners and their agencies would do well to take a look into the world of celebrity sponsorship and promotion and the reasons why brands like doing it.

If you are attempting to sell your ‘character’ licence into this world, one of the major selling points is that your character is able to add value to a brand in exactly the same way as a celebrity, plus there is zero chance that they are going to turn up in the tabloids falling out of nightclubs at 3am and sticking a couple of fingers up at the paparazzi…

Richard Pink is md of Pink Key Consulting – an agency specialising in licensing and promotions. He can be contacted on

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