The Strategy Behind… celebrity endorsements!

Over a 15-year period, Dominic Reilly generated over £250m in sponsorship revenues whilst working first for sports agencies and then as Head of Marketing at the Williams F1 Team. This time Dominic gives us his take on celebrity endorsements.

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George Clooney, Scarlet Johannson, and Beyonce… They’ve all done it.

Fernando Alonso, Roger Federer and Giselle Bunchen… They’re all doing it too.

I am talking about celebrity endorsements. We have all seen the ads in magazines and on TV featuring well-known actors and or sportspeople. Each of them wearing the latest watches, sports shoes and luxury handbags. Endorsements or recommendations are not a modern phenomenon.

As far back as the middle ages, great artists of the era were endorsing each other’s work. Even today every author appreciates a single-line endorsement from a powerful individual, designed to make others want to buy their work. One of the earliest known recommendations of this kind was by none other than Michelangelo. He wrote about Dante Alighieri, the author of “The Divine Comedy” and “Inferno”…

“Ne’er walked the earth a greater man than he”.

Now THAT is quite an endorsement from a rather well-known individual.

We cannot all benefit from such a grand recommendation, however with the proliferation of media channels in more modern times, sports personalities and actors are now frequently used to endorse brands.

Modern-day endorsements by sports stars really came to the fore when Mark McCormack founded his sports agency, IMG in the 1960s. Over the years their clients included Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Sir Jackie Stewart OBE, Bjorn Borg, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost to name a few.

Modern-day endorsements by sports stars really came to the fore when Mark McCormack founded his sports agency, IMG in the 1960s.

Sir Jackie Stewart is probably one of the most successful exponents of using his fame, notoriety and ambassadorial skills to promote brands – and of course his own personal wealth. He has been able to do this because he is the ultimate professional. Being an ambassador has become his full-time career. He is one of the longest standing ambassadors for Rolex for example promoting the watch brand for some 40 years.

He is the perfect ambassador for them. A three-time World Champion, well travelled, well respected and extremely well connected. He can invite his royal connections and celebrity friends to join a VIP function guaranteeing Rolex additional column inches and cache amongst the rich and famous. He also never forgets how important his sponsors are to him. He ALWAYS wears a Rolex watch.

When it comes to associating your brand with an individual I would recommend the following:

  1. Have a contract that details the commercial terms, the length of the agreement and various other details such as the number of countries in which you can use the image of the personality.
  2. Make sure that you have a disrepute clause. Scandals might sell tabloid newspapers but if your newly engaged brand ambassador is caught with his pants down, you will probably want to disengage from the relationship.
  3. Chose wisely. Get to know the individual in advance. Are they going to be easy to work with and are they a good company? This is particularly important if you expect to introduce them to the media and your VIP customers.
  4. Make sure you have exclusivity in your category.
  5. And the absolute key to a successful endorsement campaign is authenticity.

When I launched our eponymous travel accessories brand we chose to do so via a partnership with Williams F1 and their drivers. It was a logical choice. Having worked for the team for ten years, I know the team well. They are a professional outfit with millions of fans worldwide and their drivers are internationally renowned celebrities.   In addition, they travel over 100,000 km each year visiting 20 countries. There could be no better vehicle to promote a luggage brand. To have Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas using our products really helps raise the stature of our brand to a global audience. They are also both fantastic guys so it’s a privilege for us to have them representing us. And they are a team on the rise, getting back to their winning ways!

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