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Only Human

By: Darrin Duber-Smith


Celebrities are only human, and humans make mistakes. Sometimes we forget that, and when marketers use celebrities such as athletes as brand endorsers, the errors that humans have a propensity to make can exact fairly large consequences. This is true for both the human as well as the brand. Using celebrities in marketing can be risky, especially in the Age of Twitter. Everything a famous person might say or do these days is subject to an unprecedented level of scrutiny, and this new reality is becoming increasingly troublesome for marketers who prefer to use endorsers to cut through the marketing clutter.


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Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers quarterback who has been no stranger to controversy over his career, recently insulted a female reporter by suggesting in a condescending manner that it was "funny" that a female should be asking about pass routes. The female sports reporter did not find it funny at all, and neither did yogurt giant Dannon which did not wait for the obligatory apology and cut endorsement ties with Newton immediately.


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In fact, the company seemed to take more offense than the reporter did, and at first blush it seemed to me that Dannon overreacted. But when thinking about all of the recent controversy stirred up by the anthem protests, it's hard to blame a major brand for being a bit "gun shy". This sort of thing is beginning to happen with much greater frequency. These are touchy times, and a contemporary marketer might even reconsider any plans to use celebrity endorsers in this new environment that almost invites problems. In the old days, the negative publicity created by what a person did and said didn't travel quite as far and wide as it does now. And a brand doesn't want to be associated with any controversy created by the actions of a celebrity endorser. So why not create a "spokescharacter" instead?


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Well, Jared from Subway taught us that even non-celebrity spokespeople (he wasn't a celebrity before Subway made him one) can create problems for a brand.Using a voice behind an animated character like Chester the Cheetah (Cheetos) and the Geico gecko does appear to be the least risky proposition, but celebrity endorsements have been found to be rather effective in advertising. This is why they are used so often. But perhaps marketers could take a bit more care in selecting the endorsers they use, who are primarily chosen and compensated based on one or more awareness and "like-ability" scores. Maybe the folks who develop these scores can start to factor in the "risk" of using a particular endorser based on age, occupation, income, level of consumer awareness, past behavior, marital status, gender, and other relevant risk factors a marketer might want to consider before attaching his/her brand to a famous human being. These days like-ability doesn't seem to be enough. It's just an idea, but it is one whose time has probably come. After all, celebrity endorsers are only human.