A Different Kind of Risk with Celebrity Branding

It’s Bike Walk Week here in the Twin Cities, and with the Tour de France next month it was time to use a certain situation in the cycling world to springboard to a broader marketing discussion about use of celebrity endorsement.

Now, with the Tour right on the horizon we were sure to see an uptick in media coverage about Lance Armstrong and the on-going questions about doping: “Did he ride clean or did he dope?”

You may have seen, or at least heard fallout from, the 60 Minutes episode last month where the doping allegations were renewed. So much for having to wait until next month. Seeing as the latest wave of tit for tat has already launched a counter effort from the Armstrong camp, it’s possible the CBS news program discovery isn’t going to make a dent in the legacy of the cyclist after all. This MediaPost article tries to transcend the question of the man’s legacy and instead look at the impact of his situation on the Livestrong brand.

What’s interesting is that, despite all the attention Armstrong is again receiving in the press, the status of celebrities and brand sponsorships has not really been brought front and center. That surprises me in part because of how much of a focus the “celebrity as brand” issue came up during the Tiger Woods scandal.

I’m not a talent agent nor do I profess any deeper information or understanding of the above two sports celebrity cases. However I do have a few points worth considering if we segue the post and discussion over to the question of what a celebrity might bring a brand.

I recently worked on a campaign to promote a brand by way of a celebrity who was in a distinct fashion relevant to that brand. (Sorry, I’m not going to get in to specifics so as to retain client confidentiality.)

We featured the celebrity in broadcast communications and then worked with a partner agency to develop a pay-per-click campaign in Google search. What we learned was that the celebrity affiliation accounted for a predominant quantity of search traffic to our client’s website. However, after the celebrity buzz subsided, the non-celebrity search traffic began to take over.

Also, whether the celeb-driven traffic was high or not, those visitors seemed more interested in the celebrity than they did in the messages and products our client wanted to convey.

In summary, the celebrity can have a role to play in driving a brand’s site traffic. A sure win for short-term marketing efforts. However, since that same celebrity affiliation may not lead to more than site visits, marketers will want to think beyond the initial media buy for the longer-term brand impact.

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