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How do you solve a problem like... getting the most out of a Super Bowl star endorsement?

How can brands get their money’s worth from celebrity endorsements?

In this series, we ask readers of The Drum – from brands, agencies and everything in between – for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners. Today, we ask US marketers how to extract value from a big-name endorsement.

Big-name stars have been part of the marketer’s toolkit for as long as the industry has been in business. And they’re a favourite strategy for brands looking to break through the background noise at the Super Bowl. Some team-ups are more successful than others, of course, and getting a partnership to actually work well for brand and talent is a fine art.

With this year’s big game behind us, we asked agency figures in the US how brands can get the most out of their celebrity alliances.

How do you solve a problem like... getting the most out of a celebrity endorsement?

Rand Harbert, chief marketing officer, State Farm

In the last decade, State Farm has become synonymous with football. Aaron Rodgers has played a big role in that, and now Patrick Mahomes is part of our team as well. Both add tremendous brand value through our consistent advertising; our ads are top performers in our category for memorability and brand linkage.

When you add in Jake from State Farm, who we reintroduced to fans in 2020, we knew we were in a unique position for our first-ever Big Game spot – together, the three are an invaluable trifecta. Then, a surprise appearance from Drake provided that ’wow’ factor fans expect during the Big Game and positioned Jake as a true cultural icon, which will carry through to our work the rest of the year.

Patti McConnell, co-founder and managing partner, Something Different

The use of celebrity endorsements is such a mixed bag. The question, whether it be on-camera or even as a voice-over, comes down to brand awareness and recognition. Does the partnering enhance the messaging or bring added authentic entertainment value? Is the creative elevated because of the alignment? Does the personality tell a better story? If none of this is accomplished, then it’s simply gratuitous. And while Super Bowl is judged through a different lens, for what the investment is in terms of both celebrity fees and media costs, all the boxes need to be checked to see ROI.

James Pacitto, art director, Co:collective

Authenticity. I know, I know, what an overused word. But that’s the key to achieving the absolute most out of your celeb or influencer campaign. People love these characters for a reason. They are hilarious or have millions of views just for dancing. Tap into this. It doesn’t make sense to put a character into a story that has nothing to do with their world. Drive the concept around your chosen character and play to their strengths and storylines. Take Charli D’Amelio in Sabras Pita’s Super Bowl commercial. There was no dancing, no crazy nails, no fun transitions. Just by saying those few things about the Tik Tok legend, I can picture a better commercial already.

Dan Lucey, chief creative officer, Havas New York

Getting a celeb to shill your product in a Super Bowl ad does not guarantee success, no matter how many times they get hit in the crotch. A brand must pick someone with an authentic, cultural connection to their products if they really want to be memorable.

For example, is said celeb at a point in their life where your product is extremely and possibly humorously relevant? Great! Are they visibly taking action about a social cause that your brand is also championing? Perfect! Did they recently get caught by TMZ shamefully licking the remains of your brand’s powdered doughnut off their fingers? Ideal! Storylines that link to culture are storylines that get picked up by culture and ensure you’ll get the most out of your high-priced deal.

Caroline Farley, managing director, Fever Unlimited

There’s one simple rule to follow with celebrity endorsement: don’t be lazy and assume a high-profile name equates success. Do your homework and really interrogate the important questions. Does the celebrity genuinely embody your brand values? Do they have an authentic voice in the space? Are they looking for a meaningful partnership and to collaborate creatively? Do they have a fan base that compliments the audience you are trying to reach?

Above all, bring them on the journey with you. Avoid those looking to do the bare minimum – the more invested they feel and the more they care, the greater rewards you will reap.

Finally, approach the negotiation and contracting phase with a cross-channel mindset to ensure you land an agreement that maximises every consumer touchpoint.

Barbara Yolles, chief executive officer, Ludwig+

Smart advertisers don’t think of celebrities as mere endorsements any more. They think of them as brand partnerships. Consider it a brand-equity loan, where both parties bring their own value. You’re aligning brands so force-fits simply won’t work, and values need to correspond to come across as genuine. But the partnership mindset can help create the extensions necessary to maximize your ROI and keep the messaging resonating long after the game. Rocket did this really well with Jason Momoa. Along with a great spot, there was plenty of content to inspire and engage, not only consumers but internal audiences as well.

Scott Harkey, president and chief executive officer, OH Partners

Too often, we see endorsement deals and sports partnerships forged without thinking about 360 activations and the many ways to leverage celebrity influence. There are so many missed opportunities relating to package design, in-store, owned media, email, text, website, direct mail, events and even the influencer’s own channels.

The power of celebrity influencers is so huge that I like to set up a huge war-room board to help cross-pollinate ideas and really unlock the distribution of brands. Sometimes we’ll discover a surprise, like a B2B component. Most importantly, the endorser should be a good fit with the brand.

Sam Simoneaux, director of media, Good Apple

The key to maximizing the impact of endorsements is to partner with the right celebrity so that the price tag is worth every cent. While it’s clear the celebrity should align with the product, it’s equally important to ensure the celebrity aligns with the target audience. Sure, an older demographic of golfers could be watching the halftime show, but they probably wouldn’t care which golf clubs The Weeknd uses. Endorsement promotions should be multi-channel, allowing exposure to scale beyond traditional influencer channels and further drive reach among the desired target, and ultimately boost sales.

Daryl Giannantonio, executive strategy director, Wunderman Thompson

Celebrities can garner attention but also overshadow a brand. The magic happens when a celebrity is more of an advocate than a spokesperson. The most beneficial celebrity endorsements come when the celebrity is integral to the brand idea itself.

It creates an authentic and seamless connection between the brand and the celebrity and ensures the celebrity is synonymous with the brand message. It also enables the celebrity to have a visibly active role in all brand communications. Partnering with someone who shares the same ethos as the brand makes a celebrity an active brand steward after the big game is over.

Steve Red, president and co-chief creative officer, Red Tettemer O’Connell + Partners

To celeb or not to celeb? That’s the multi-million dollar, largely unquantifiable question. To put the odds in your favor: the idea is the boss. Choose a celebrity that amplifies the idea, don’t default to fame to as the ’idea’. Aim for authentic brand love. If possible, find a celeb who genuinely believes in the brand. It’ll show.

Negotiate fiercely. Get as much as you can out of the contract. More shoot hours. More extensions. More social posts. Last, always remember to wrangle a wrap photo for your feeds as proof to your friends that you were with said famous person.

Rob Lambrechts, chief creative officer, Pereira O’Dell

If you can get a celebrity to be in your ad, great. If you can get a celebrity to actually help make your ad, even better.

Celebrity endorsements are as old as time because they work. However, over the past year we’re seeing a shift from brands simply co-opting celebrity to co-creating with them. Which, frankly, is better for everyone involved. With our client Adobe, we’ve been developing programs with artists like Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X and Tierra Whack that bring them into the creative process to create an authentic, inspiring experience for the audience.

Eric Stein, chief creative officer, Hooray Agency

Assuming you’ve chosen the right celebrity – one who aligns with the values and personality of the brand and its followers – getting the most out of an endorsement means maximizing ROI. Hiring a big name like Gabrielle Union might boost appeal, but she doesn’t come cheap. On the flip side, YouTube sensation Ryan Higa – who has 21 million subscribers and a Q score similar to Union’s – might be a fraction of the cost. It all comes down to who your audience is, and what form of media they consume. Oh, and one last thing: having a big, fat, interesting idea don’t hurt, either.

Lori Heckman Golden, vice-president of celebrity and influencer, The Marketing Arm

During a pandemic, working with high-profile talent can be even more complicated than usual, but it also opens doors to talent who may be more available due to TV/film production delays, lack of travel and increased interest in alternative revenue streams.

Talent tend to be more open to Super Bowl commercials than other campaigns throughout the year – even celebrities who normally are impossible ’gets’. It continues to be a prestigious campaign to book no matter the product category.

The hardest task is securing a talent who fits the brand equity and the marketing goals and is also within budget. Often this is within an expedited timeframe and over the holidays.

The next is getting the most value for the spend. Relationship-building with the celebrity and his or her representatives is key. If It’s a mutually beneficial relationship and the talent feels they’re being valued and treated with respect (and sometimes their creative views are being heard and utilized), they will want to help the brand drive home as much success as possible.

Caroline Reed, chief executive officer, Creed Consulting

The practical challenges that come with celebrity endorsements – cost, potential negative press, overshadowing the brand – are well known. But the benefits of selecting the right endorser can be a catapult to making a brand relevant to key consumers. Above all, people respond to endorsers who are authentic and trustworthy.

According to several market research studies, female endorsers are more authentic and trusted, yet male celebrity endorsements are more common. We advise advertisers that focusing on gender representation matters when considering celebrity endorsements to help their brands breakthrough in the crowd of messages.

Bohb Blair, global chief experience officer, Starcom

One celebrity’s endorsement will never be as powerful as many. Increasingly, we live in an age where nobody agrees on anything – including their favorite celebrity. Cut that endorsement up into multiple smaller partners who subsets of your audience care about deeply. Whether you focus on your top three or top 300; in aggregate, you will have more impact. Also, don’t constrain partnerships to the confines of the ad. You can achieve more power by partnering on a shared social cause or collaborating on an aspect of your product. Tell stories about your partnership rather than filming a contrived message.

Feel like joining in the debate next week? Email me at sam.bradley@thedrum.com

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