Your Brand Has a Celebrity on Board – Handle That Endorsement With Care

By Alistair Schoonmaker, Co-Founder & Managing Director of Ultra Brand Studio

A brand ambassador can bring plenty to the party – clicks, column inches and widespread media coverage to name a few. And publicity is all good right? Not always. Because for every brilliantly executed Superbowl ad, there’s a celebrity endorsement that doesn’t land. And when that happens, the reputation of the industry is at stake – never mind the brand and personality.

So it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself in for right from the start and align the right ambassador with the right brand. Creatively, it’s not as easy as it sounds and it’s about striking the right balance – and trying to move away from the ‘hard sell’ approach.


The starting point is getting a cross section of two brands – the brand itself and the celebrity. This isn’t always obvious but if you can find plenty of touch points then that helps. It’s about bringing it all together.

An example comes from the Better Believe It campaign from Nike and Marcus Rashford, a project that we worked on at Ultra. Nike has an established relationship with the Manchester United and England striker, and we added a bit of edge to his persona. Nice guy off the pitch but a devil on it.

The switch was getting people to think about what it would be like if Rashord was running at you as though you were a defender. Suddenly he is seen in a different light – not just the person who helps feed school kids in poverty but someone on the pitch who can scare even the most seasoned defender.

Less scary was David Beckham’s involvement with Stella Artois –  a mash-up of two mega brands doing something that goes against type. In this outdoor campaign, we don’t get to see the former England captain’s face – just his heavily tattooed hands holding a glass or case of the Belgian beer. The tongue-in-cheek copy suggests that Golden Ball’s famous good looks will take focus from the brand – the real star of the show. It’s a neat twist on what we’re expecting. It manages to avoid sameness – after all, Becks is front and centre of almost every campaign he fronts.

It’s a strong visual device that keeps the related elements together. For a brand ambassador to work you need to find that intersection between the celebrity and brand.

The Pitfalls

But there is a temptation to use your brand ambassador to do the ‘hard sell’. And if the celebrity endorsement comes across as feeling weird or doesn’t fit creatively, advertising itself gets a bad name. One example is the recent tie-up between Solo and Snoop Dog. A viral ‘give up smoke’ campaign for the smokeless fire pit brand failed to land and didn’t give Solo the uplift in sales it was expecting. And the result was the fall of the company’s CEO. Brand awareness is one thing, but ultimately it needs to shift stock. And in the case of the Snoop Dog drive, the two brands just didn’t fit. There needs to be a level of self-awareness and the danger is when you’re trying to be too clever and the payoff isn’t there.

While we in the industry can see this, so too can consumers. It’s never been easier to avoid advertising than it is now. And when you don’t get things right, it can take the industry backwards a bit. Advertising becomes a dirty word.

Just entertain

Many of the ads for this year’s Superbowl got the balance right and gives you encouragement that creatives do have a clear understanding of what to do with their brand ambassador. The tone was very much ‘just be you and don’t try to do too much’. There were countless examples. One that stood out was from State Farm. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s self-deprecating humour (“like a good neighbaaa”) combines well with callbacks to his all-action on-screen persona. There are touch points galore along with a neat touch of nostalgia.

More daring was the Superbowl commercial for Paramount Plus. Here you had multiple celebrities – big brands in their own right – sending themselves up and having fun. And there are plenty involved in the Paramount Mountain spot – Patrick Stewart, Drew Barrymore and Peppa Pig to name just three. They all have a reason to be there and the surreal nature of the commercial puts them out of their comfort zone. And they’re likely having a laugh while doing it.

You’re not going to change the world so just entertain people. Because if you get your celebrity endorsement wrong, then boy you have wasted a lot of money.

For questions:
Valerie Silverman Kerr, Velvet PR

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