MOST SUCCESSFUL PRODUCT LAUNCHES: Can celebrities ruin a launch

The right celebrity can do wonders for a product launch, but advertisers should be wary of the dangers of relying too heavily on star names to do the selling. Nicole Dickenson reports

The right celebrity can do wonders for a product launch, but advertisers

should be wary of the dangers of relying too heavily on star names to do

the selling. Nicole Dickenson reports

Using a celebrity to endorse a product launch can pay huge dividends. It

can give a brand instant personality and, hopefully, instant appeal.

‘Celebrities are great as a way of giving immediate fame and borrowed

interest to a brand. It can be very fast working,’ says Mike Perry, the

managing director of Simons Palmer, which has made great use of sporting

personalities in its advertising for Nike.

As long as the chosen celebrity fits snugly with the brand’s

positioning, image and qualities, they can provide a tremendous sales

boost. Oasis soft drinks is a case in point. Oasis was voted the most

successful soft drink launch of 1995 by Supermarketing and Asian Trader

and is market leader in the adult soft drinks sector. The drink

capitalised on the vibrant nature of the TV personality and cross-

dresser, Lily Savage, who provided the voiceover.

‘Lily Savage was ideal for launching the Oasis brand because of her

larger-than-life persona, memorable personality and appeal to young

people. She has a very down-to-earth, very British, witty sense of

humour and that’s exactly the type of attitude the brand wanted to own,’

Philippa Baldwin, the Saatchi and Saatchi account director on Oasis,


Another recent success story was John Smith’s choice of the comedian,

Jack Dee, to launch their canned bitter with widgets. The campaign

exploited Dee’s dry sense of humour and deadpan delivery, and gave the

product instant credibility.

Jeremy Bowles, a board account director on Reebok at Lowe Howard-Spink,

identifies one of the most successful and enduring personality

endorsements as the photographer David Bailey’s work for the launch of

the Olympus camera: ‘He was not just a famous photographer but also sexy

and irreverent, and he gave the brand personality straightaway. There

was also consistency - Olympus stayed with him for 13 or 14


But there are pitfalls in celebrity endorsement. ‘Using a personality

can be an easy way out, particularly in a sector that doesn’t have much

personality. The personality has to fit in with the longer-term

strategy. You have to know where you’re going,’ Perry warns.

‘Personalities are great for launching brands as long as the consumer

remembers the brand, and the personality fits the image you want to get

across for the brand. But the danger is that the personality of the

brand becomes the individual and there is no residue behind that fame

that tells you what the brand is all about,’ he adds.

Baldwin also recognises the danger that the personality can become

bigger than the brand. ‘Occasionally, you get a personality who

overwhelms the brand and so the recall you get is of the personality and

not the brand,’ Baldwin says. ‘The trick with using personalities is to

balance empathy with the brand values and to avoid overwhelming the

advertising message and ensuring the brand remains the hero,’ she says.

Examples of dominant personalities are Paul Hogan, who became synonymous

with Fosters lager, and Maureen Lipman’s Beattie for BT, who has proved

to be a tough act for Bob Hoskins to follow.

Bowles says Lowes uses two criteria for avoiding this scenario: is it a

strong enough idea? And is the personality the right person to enhance

the idea rather than overpower it? Lowes neatly avoided the problem of

one dominant personality by using no fewer than 21 celebrities for the

recent launch of Reebok’s football boot range. Stars from Robbie

Williams to Steven Berkoff and Quentin Crisp were chosen for their

affinity with football and their admiration for Ryan Giggs, who endorses

the Reebok boot. ‘Early research showed that using ordinary fans didn’t

lend the brand the same excitement and passion as celebrities,’ Bowles


Another pitfall is using celebrities who are seen to endorse products

willy-nilly. ‘Consumers see through tokenism. Where it goes wrong is

where the personality is simply saying what the advertiser wants. The

consumer can see when the personality is just doing the commercial for

the money and there’s no integrity or honesty,’ Perry warns.

Although Bowles prefers solus deals with celebs, he believes that

clients can overcome the potential problems of using over-exposed

celebrities such as Harry Enfield, Joanna Lumley and Angus Deayton by

being consistent. ‘As long as you stick to the same idea, viewers start

to log it and begin to associate the personality with the brand,’ he


Using the wrong celebrity can leave the consumer confused and hold a

brand back. Robert Lindsay and Beatrice Dalle, despite being fine actors

in their own right, were not seen as reflecting the Mercury brand.

While all agree the right celebrity can do wonders for a product launch,

there is less consensus on whether choosing the ‘wrong’ celebrity can

inflict much harm. Chris Cowpe, the joint managing director of BMP DDB,

is sceptical of the idea that a personality can actually damage a new

product launch, even when they achieve unwelcome notoriety as in the

case of Estee Lauder with Liz Hurley and her boyfriend Hugh Grant’s

close encounter with Divine Brown. ‘Estee Lauder obviously thinks it

managed that moment,’ he says. ‘What’s important is choosing the right

personality and using them in a way that is credible to the personality

in question.’


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