From celebrity endorsements to global celebrity creative directors

Celebrity endorsement in advertising is nothing new. From the long time strategy adopted by brands such as Lux who pioneered female celebrity endorsement or Pepsi’s relationship with pop culture in their ‘Taste of the New Generation’ platform, to the more contemporary usage of celebrities by brands such as Mandarin Oriental’s ‘I’m a fan’ campaign. The use of celebrity used to be about helping to shape the brand positioning (as in the case of the Lux being the choice of ‘stars’ and Pepsi’s association with the ‘New Generation’), or in some cases, purely as an awareness exercise.

In Asia, celebrity endorsements had long been a ‘formula’ favoured by brands aiming to achieve an instant fame, from China, India to Japan, often without much careful consideration of the compatibility of the celebrity’s persona with the brand’s image. Every Bollywood star has a product to endorse, and every Japanese whisky has a Hollywood star in a talking head commercial. That’s probably the reason why in the past when a client said they wanted to use a celebrity in the upcoming campaign, it almost always signified the beginning of a formulated creative process.

To a certain extent, this has changed.

The recent trend for brands to associate with celebrities indicates both a changing nature of ‘celebrity’ and the practice of ‘endorsements’. Celebrities are no longer just the face or simply play an acting part in a commercial. In fact they are now hired as creative directors. Some of the recent appointments include:

  • Justin Timberlake for BudLight Platinum
  • Alisha Keys for Blackberry
  • Marc Jacobs for Diet Coke
  • for Intel
  • Lady Gaga for Polaroid

Here are some of their own words in response to their appointments:

Some of them are more credible, as in the case of who actually carries the title of Director of Innovation and reportedly holds an Intel fellowship at the company’s HQ in Santa Clara to constantly dream up innovative ideas, working in collaboration with Intel’s futurist Brain David Johnson. This seems to me one of the more successful collaboration. For other, it could well be just another ‘form’ of celebrity endorsement.

However, one thing is for certain, celebrities are no longer one-dimensional and with their ability to generate ‘content’ in the digital space, it’s where the potential begins. And when brands are moving towards acting as ‘publishers’, the need for relevant and quality content is paramount. When BudLight announced Justin Timberlake’s appointment they said he will ‘provide creative, musical and cultural curation for the brand’ while Justin Timberlake said he is ‘looking forward to not only being a part of the creative process, but in bringing other talented musicians to the forefront as well.’ Could that mean the brand’s future involvements on platforms such as MySpace? Let’s wait and see.

Will the trend of ‘celebrity creative directors’ adapt well in your market? What are the differences in terms of the driving force behind it and its effectiveness? I would like to know.