A problem that every new business struggles with is brand recognition. Pitted against large, established corporations with gargantuan marketing budgets, start-ups have to battle under a cloak of near-anonymity.
So how can you alter this imbalance? One quick-fire way to boost market awareness is to use a well-known celebrity to promote your brand.
Signing up a celebrity to spruik your business is no mean feat, but the added media interest and branding power can provide long-lasting benefits for years to come.
Brian Levine knows what it takes to get a celebrity to endorse a business, and the huge effect this can have, be it positive or negative.
Along with Australian Olympian Kieren Perkins, Levine heads up Blinc International, a celebrity broker and sponsorship agency based in Sydney.
Blinc International has brokered many successful celebrity endorsement deals, including Jennifer Hawkins for Myer, Rebecca Gibney for Nintendo and Hayley Lewis for Nivea.
According to Levine, celebrity endorsement is not out of reach for small businesses, but they need to think carefully before they position their brand in this way.
“I think celebrity endorsement is achievable for small businesses,” he says.
“Particularly in the retail sphere, when you’re talking about products being delisted from the shelves of Woolies, Coles and IGA, products now need a voice from the shelf and a marketing plan.”
“When you’re sitting in front of the buyers at Coles and Woolies, and they have their own ranges, you need to be shouting loud and proud as to why you should be remaining on the shelf.”
“Celebrities are being used more and more [as a result].”
That’s not to say there aren’t drawbacks. On the contrary, getting involved with a celebrity can be risky business, as one entrepreneur found out.
Getting it wrong
Justin Burden, founder of gym and fitness portal 1selectfitness.com.au, knows all too well what it’s like to watch a celebrity endorsement deal go pear-shaped, having experienced it first-hand.
Last year, Burden approached weight loss celebrity Ajay Rochester, asking her to spread the word about the value of his website. Burden was confident Rochester would be a perfect fit.
However, Burden claims Rochester failed to live up to her end of the bargain.
“She assured us she had the talent, the experience and the media training to control an interview and to ensure that our website was in the public eye,” Burden told Today Tonight.
“She had a total airtime of 25 minutes and 10 seconds, and she promoted our website for a minute and 50 seconds… The traffic to the site doesn’t lie – it just was not there.”
Rochester has a drastically different view of the disastrous deal, claiming that Burden still owes her $35,000 in unpaid fees and that, rather than her failing to promote the business, she toured various Fernwood Gym outlets to talk to women about weight loss on behalf of the company.
In a blog post on her website, Rochester says: “Justin had my face and testimonial on his website, on magazine ads, and in articles related to his business but once again, no sticking point…why would people go to his site? It had no hook. That is not my problem.”
Of course, not every celebrity endorsement deal turns into a horror story.
Getting it right
Roxy Jacenko, founder and director of Sweaty Betty PR, which specialises in fashion, beauty and lifestyle, says celebrity endorsement is becoming an increasingly popular marketing tactic.
“With the economic downturn, more companies are turning to below the line activities such as endorsements and PR rather than straight advertising,” Jacenko says.
“Also, with the rise in reality TV, there are much higher numbers of celebrities, all of whom will gladly accept endorsement or sponsorship deals as ways of raising their profile.”
Jacenko believes a celebrity ambassador can be a great asset to a business, providing it’s the right celebrity and the strategy is carefully considered.
“But it is not the be all and end all – it would be naive to think that every consumer can be won over or influenced by a celebrity,” she warns.
“Your marketing and PR mix needs to include more than just the celebrity element.”
Similarly, Erminio Putignano, managing director of FutureBrand Australia, believes celebrity endorsement is “probably the laziest approach to communication”.
“It’s often adopted by agencies when they don’t have a better idea,” Putignano says.
“Often, the brand is relying entirely on the celebrity using their own personality to create some sort of momentum and traction around the brand.
“If celebrity endorsement is becoming more frequent, that’s bad news. It means people are running out of interesting ideas.”
So how do you ensure a celebrity endorsement doesn’t reflect badly on your business?
Weigh up the cost
Jacenko says unless your brand has a charity element, you will rarely secure any kind of deal for free.
“Celebrities are paid huge amounts to act as ambassadors,” Jacenko says.
“So think about whether you can really afford it and, if so, do you have the extra budget and infrastructure to support the activity?
“Signing up a celebrity is only the start: You will need to hold a press conference or media activity to announce the relationship, potentially a photo shoot with the celebrity and your products, issue regular media releases around the relationship, include the celebrity on your point of sale, etc.”
“If you can’t commit to this, you won’t get the return on investment for the partnership and you should look at spending your budget in other ways.”