Celebrity endorsers can be an effective promotion strategy to gain awareness and shape image. Pairing a brand with a well known or likable celebrity can elevate a brand, but what happens if the endorser runs into personal troubles (did anyone say Tiger Woods)? Marketers fear that the positive effects an endorser provides can be negated and harm done to the brand if the endorser receives publicity for problems or scandal. As a result, a standard part of endorser marketing agreements is some type of morals clause, which gives the company that hired the endorser an exit from the relationship. This response was seen in the Tiger Woods case as partners like Accenture and Gatorade made moves to distance themselves from Tiger.
Is it possible that marketers overreact when quickly disassociating themselves with a troubled endorser? The answer may be “yes” according to a study by Harris Interactive (for more info click here). A survey of more than 2,000 adults found that 74% felt no differently about a brand that employed a celebrity enmeshed in scandal. Approximately 22% said they feel worse about brands associated with a celebrity involved in scandal, and 5% said they actually feel better about brands that had endorsers associated with scandal. Persons aged 45-54 were more likely to feel negatively toward brands (28% of that group shared that sentiment), and 18-34 year-olds were more likely to feel better about brands (11%).
Do these results mean that marketers should simply let their endorsers “live and let live?” Not necessarily; a partnership with a celebrity endorser is usually an expensive one. A celebrity’s problems have the potential to create negative brand associations, and that is a risk many marketers simply are not willing (and should not) take. The surprisingly large percentage of people who are indifferent toward celebrity scandal suggests a couple of themes, though. One, we love our heroes, whether they be movie stars, athletes, musicians, or from some other source of fame. Americans are able to forgive and forget relatively fast when it comes to the transgressions of their heroes. Two, I wonder if we have become desensitized to events such as celebrities getting in trouble for drug use, infidelity, or some other form of unacceptable or illegal behavior. If we rationalize the behavior as just being part of the world we live in today, coupled with affinity for our heroes, we may be inclined to shrug our shoulders and move on.