Jul 2018

Why Brands Should Rethink Celebrity Brand Ambassadors

Olatunde Samuel-Ipaye
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So you want to give your business a facelift and you think signing on a celebrity to endorse your product is the best way to go? Well, before you go on with splashing that million naira bill on some celebrity I suggest you read this article to the very last word. You are sure to find insightful information that would definitely guide your branding strategy especially in the area of celebrity endorsements.

It is generally accepted that branding is arguably one of the most essential facets of any business regardless of its size, sector or type of customer or consumer. How your organization is perceived by your audience is a function of branding. As a result, several organizations have adopted various branding strategies such as television and radio media buying, billboards, handbills etc. particularly noting a popular strategy; Celebrity endorsement. It has been observed to be a very effective branding strategy which involves signing a celebrity (famous person) in a bid to use his or her social status to promote the brand and project the image which it wants its audience to perceive.

The art of Celebrity endorsement in Nigeria is currently on the rise with more brands signing multiple celebrities to further project their image. Millions of naira is invested into endorsements annually and celebrities in recent times have clenched mouthwatering deals following their recognition by Nigerians as role models worthy of emulation. As these celebrities have an ever growing popularity and social status, the more buzz they generate the more likely they are to land an endorsement deal. So why should I endorse a celebrity? You might ask. Promoting the positive image of your brand is an important activity to undertake. Sadly the celebrities being endorsed themselves appear to have an image far from positive. Though this strategy has many times proven to be very effective in enhancing a brand’s image and generally increasing its social acceptability, the opposite is sometimes the case, leading to drop in market share and product sales.

This form of marketing is largely employed in developed countries where stringent policies accompany such contract as brand image is of utmost importance to international businesses. Top brands in developed countries have terminated some binding contracts with celebrities over misconduct. Consumers tend to avoid identifying with brands whose choice of spokesperson (celebrity) has a morally unpleasant outlook thereby compelling brands to terminate contracts with celebrities who showcase inappropriate behavior, for example; Michael Phelps, the Olympian Swimming sensation’s contract with Kellogg was terminated after a photo of him inhaling marijuana leaked. Rapper Lil Wayne in 2013 lost a multi-million dollar deal with Mountain Dew after making some distasteful lyrics about a human rights activist in his song. Tiger Woods in 2009 whose marriage infidelity went public, saw Gatorade, AT&T, Accenture, and Gillette terminate their endorsements with him. In 2009, singer Chris Brown physically assaulted his girlfriend and fellow singer Rihanna, and he was quickly relieved of his contract by Wrigley's (gum maker) and Got Milk while some radio stations stopped playing his songs. Akon, Senegalese-American wonder singer in 2007 lost his sponsorship from Verizon Wireless due to an incident at a concert where he pulled a female fan on stage and began to simulate sex scenes with her. It turned out that the girl was only 15 years old. In 2012 popular songstress Rihanna was stripped of her endorsement with Skin-care brand Nivea for her naughty images, singing about sex, smoking weed, and appearing unclothed all too often. The list is endless.

It therefore appears that most international brands consider projecting the right brand image to be equally as important as making sales. Interestingly, in Nigeria and most parts of Africa, the opposite seems to be the case, as events of misconduct appear not to affect ties between celebrities plagued with scandals and their sponsors; instead they ostensibly get a pat on the back. For example; Wizkid, Pepsi’s brand ambassador has an ever increasing baby mama drama following his abrupt switch from the innocent teenager to his current bad boy facade. The Pepsi, MTN and Guinness brand ambassador and Nigerian music ace, Davido came under heavy duty scrutiny in recent times for alleged possession of hard drugs. Wande Coal in 2010 was caught pants down in a photo that went outrageously viral. Chidinma Ekile, brand ambassador for MTN alleged sex-tape saga in 2013 didn’t seem to dent her endorsement status. Fuji music icon Obesere came under fire quite recently in 2014 after he was arrested following accusation of rape by his girlfriend Olanike Olaiya. Nollywood actor Nkem Owoh popularly called "Osuofia"’ brand ambassador for MTN in 2012 experienced huge public backlash when it was reported that he allegedly ordered the demolition of a house belonging to a Nigerian widow in the Eastern part of Nigeria. Just to mention a few.

Some of these actions if not all would have seen a lot of these Nigerian celebrities relieved of their endorsement contracts in developed countries. Why top brands in Nigeria take pride in endorsing celebrities who are always in the news for the wrong reasons as their ambassador is a question yet to be answered. While those who are less controversial are yet to land endorsement deals probably due to low followership or less public exposure compared to others.

So before you jump into the bandwagon of signing celebrity enquire if his/her personality connects with that of your brand as a positive outlook and a mentality of community building is the personality that every brand seeks to project. Therefore brands in Nigeria ought to rethink celebrity endorsements, as selecting the right celebrity ambassador for a brand is a meticulous process of principal importance. The right celebrity with the right image can boost brand exposure, sales, position, and market share.

Interestingly, a recent survey conducted by Insight Publicis, It was reported that an average Nigerian isn’t persuaded to purchase nor show loyalty to a brand based on their favorite celebrity’s endorsement. Sooner than later, Brand managers will be forced to start making their choice of celebrities based on empirical data; matching a celebrity’s star power to consumer’s purchase intent.

Nevertheless, the growing population of generation Z also known as the iGeneration which has social media and advanced technology at its disposal; the celebrity association trend is gradually catching on. Overtime celebrity endorsement will become a very important inclusion to marketing mix in Nigeria as it influences consumer loyalty and purchase decisions. Therefore, celebrities should be encouraged to put up the right attitude and values as they directly and indirectly influence public opinions or they could stand the risk of losing endorsements worth millions of naira with brands.

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