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  • Ian Ritchie : Scottish Business Insider

Famous faces can’t guarantee sales – they’re only human

TRICKY THINGS — celebrities. Being flesh and blood and having minds of their own can have drawbacks, particularly if you have hired them to endorse your product.

A recent report from the Ion Group, conducted by Marketing UK, has poured cold water on the effects of celebrity endorsements, which it said were largely ineffective.

They remain, however, one of the trusty stalwarts of the advertising business and one of the best ways of giving some kind of distinguishing feature to an otherwise large, faceless organisation.

As all modern supermarkets are basically the same, they feel that they need a memorable image to help you to distinguish them from each other.

Most people would agree that John Cleese’s shouting and cavorting in the aisles only damaged the image of Sainsbury. However, it is a very fine judgement. Yet the equally irritating Prunella Scales’ ‘Dotty’ character is thought to have done a great job for Tesco. And I can honestly say that I have never met anybody who can remotely understand what advantage Linda Barker is supposed to bring to Currys and DFS.

Sainsbury bravely tried again with Jamie Oliver in an attempt to connect with its younger, more aspirational, more adventurous customers. But it was rumoured to be disappointed and ready to drop him when his recent TV series campaigning on behalf of quality school dinners suddenly propelled him to national sainthood. As yet, however, there is no sign of Sainsbury removing 'Turkey Twizzlers’ from its shelves.

When Michael Jackson endorsed Pepsi, he made no secret of the fact that he never actually drank the stuff, or any other ‘stimulant’ drink. Pepsi still reckoned that his image was, at that time, so cool that it outweighed that small problem.

When Kim Winser was hired to drag that venerable fashion brand, Pringle of Scotland, into the 21st century, one of the first issues in her in-tray was that of Nick Faldo as the long-term chief endorser of the brand. A fine golfer, but no longer the kind of young, sexy, ambitious, aspirational celebrity that a fashionable brand required. His endorsement gave Pringle a rather old-fashioned image.

Faldo was sharply shown the exit and a new, more stylish range of clothes developed, suitable for anything but golf. We can only imagine Ms Winser’s delight at newspaper photographs of David Beckham wearing a Pringle sweater, with its distinctive diamond-style pattern, that he had just bought of his own volition.

Exactly the young, sexy, ambitious and aspirational image that Pringle was trying to acquire. Not only was there no endorsement fee, he actually paid for the goods with his own money. What a deal.

The trouble is, you can’t control who buys your product and uses it in public. Apple’s iPod is currently the coolest gadget on the market today; worn by all the trendy kids on the bus, train and tube and immediately recognisable by the trademark white headphones.

Imagine Apple’s shock, therefore, to hear recently about the musical content of George W Bush’s iPod as he rides his mountain bike. He must be close to the least ‘cool’ guy on the planet. One can only speculate what damage this may have done to the image of the iPod.

Apple must be devastated.

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