Celebrity endorsement may be an old trick, but it's still worthwhile. In a competitive market, a famous face can give a brand an added appeal and help it stand out.
For some companies it is enough to have a major celebrity appear in a TV ad. Barclays Bank used film stars Sir Anthony Hopkins, Tim Roth and Nick Moran in its 'Big' campaign. And L'Oreal has enlisted stars including Jennifer Aniston, Heather Locklear, David Ginola and Michael Schumacher for its L'Oreal Elvive 'Because I'm worth it' ads.
Other companies prefer to employ a single celebrity as a brand ambassador. Sue Barker fronted Kellogg's 'All Bran 10-Day Trial' drive in September, to give All Bran a broader appeal than its traditional niche market. Barker was involved with press and radio advertising, print and broadcast interviews, and her face appeared on three million special packs of All Bran, direct mail leaflets and the brand's web site.
Barker was identified as the ideal spokesperson for All Bran because she personifies well-being later in life, and the over-45s target audience can identify with her. 'Barker has shared common ideals and values with the brand,' says Julie Eaton, associate director at Hill & Knowlton.
Indeed, it is crucial that firms choose a celebrity whose image fits their brand. Tina Fotherby, managing director of The Yes Consultancy, has worked in PR with celebrities for 17 years. 'Choosing a celebrity can be a knee-jerk reaction, but you really need to think hard about it before you decide that this route is the right one for your brand,' she says.
Personifying a brand
Sainsbury's is no stranger to celebrity advertising, from its popular 'celeb-rity recipes' of the 90s to the less successful John Cleese campaign, which Sainsbury's staff felt portrayed them negatively. Naked Chef Jamie Oliver is the latest famous face to front a campaign for the supermarket in a deal thought to be worth about pounds 1m.
'Jamie stands for making great food - he's the embodiment of what we're trying to say about Sainsbury's,' says Andrew Ground, director of brand marketing at Sainsbury's.
An example of how closely associated a personality can become with a brand comes from Muller. Joanna Lumley fronted the dessert brand's 'Corners' range in 1992. Two years later, Naomi Campbell replaced her, but Lumley was reinstated to the campaign in 1997. Ken Wood, Muller managing director, says: 'Our research showed that in consumers' eyes, Joanna was the brand spokeswoman. She has very broad appeal among men, women and children alike.'
Procter & Gamble's Max Factor had only one woman in mind for a campaign to modernise the brand, which has traditionally been associated with Hollywood icons. As Annabelle Manwaring, European creative director for P&G at Leo Burnett, explains: 'Madonna is a modern icon of glamour and is well-known for using make-up to reinvent herself.'
According to Manwaring, Mad-onna insisted on trying Max Factor products to make sure she liked them before agreeing to be associated with the brand. Quite the opposite of one-time face of Yardley, Helena Bonham Carter, who later admitted that she didn't actually wear make-up.
Encouraging a celebrity to get more involved with the brand they are representing helps maintain integrity. Madonna was allowed to exercise some artistic control over the creative of the Max Factor ads. And Jamie Oliver uses his own recipes in Sainsbury's ads, advises on NPD and appeared at the opening of the flagship luxury store on London's Cromwell Road.
As Sainsbury's Ground says: 'Your ultimate protection is when the celebrity has the same intentions as the brand.'
But using a famous face has its risks: media attention is not always positive and most contracts have opt-out clauses. Shredded Wheat, for example, pulled its ads featuring then England manager Glenn Hoddle and his family after he left his wife. Another option open to agencies is to take out a 'death and disgrace' insurance policy against a celebrity.
Charles O'Reilly, director of promotional insurance broker PIMS SCA, says companies that put off using a celebrity because of the risks involved are ignoring a huge opportunity for success. 'The death and disgrace policy gives you the ability to put in place damage limitation, and you won't lose money.'
The best safeguard is to assess the risk at the beginning of the association. One of the reasons Alan Shearer was chosen by McDonald's was because he posed less risk of inappropriate behaviour than other footballers on the shortlist. David Kisilevsky, account director at Leo Burnett, the agency behind the Shearer ads, admits: 'Ultimately, there is no hard and fast insurance. You have to put as much time and effort into the brand-fit selection.'
But life is not always predictable. While Caroline Carrick, consumer PR manager at Sainsbury's, says 'There are guidelines that both parties work to. You have to trust each other', there was little the retailer could do when Oliver remarked to fellow chef Clarissa Dickson Wright (of Two Fat Ladies fame) that supermarkets were 'factories'.
He later claimed to have been misquoted, saying that although he doesn't use supermarket food in his restaurant, he regularly does shop for home at Sainsbury's.
According to Carrick, Sainsbury's met with Oliver's agent and the brand team to decide on appropriate action. Oliver wrote a letter to The Times clarifying what he had said, and Sainsbury's prepared a statement. Carrick adds that the incident generated positive coverage for the company and publicised the opening of the Cromwell Road store.
Indeed, a scandal does not always damage a brand's image. Last year, England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio made headlines when he told two reporters, posing as sponsorship agents from Gillette, that he had both taken and dealt drugs.
His sponsorship deal with Nike was thought to be worth pounds 30,000 a year, and the company stood by him. Mark Rhodes, corporate communications adviser at Nike says: 'If allegations are made against our athletes we stand by them until they are proven guilty. Lawrence wasn't guilty of the charges made against him, and he is very much still a Nike spokesperson.'
But while exposure is good, over-exposure can prove problematic. In August, the Independent Television Commission stated that Carol Vorderman was appearing on television too much - both in her capacity as a presenter and in adverts.
One viewer complained when an ad for Benecol featuring Vorderman was aired during a commercial break in Countdown, on which she is a co-presenter.
And in 1995, Vorderman lost her job on Tomorrow's World after appearing in an ad for Ariel soap powder, using her studio persona. The BBC felt she had lost her integrity.
One sector in which celebrities are never out of favour is the cosmetics market. Estimates put celebrity fees in this sector at between dollars 250,000 (pounds 170,000) and dollars 5m (pounds 3.5m).
Max Factor's Manwaring says: 'Madonna has modernised our brand in a short period, and has made a big improvement on its image. What was once a product thought of as 'pancake and cream puff' is now associated with glamour.' Although the Madonna ads have now end-ed, it reportedly generated dollars 5m (pounds 3.5m) worth of PR footage in three months.
As Leo Burnett's Kisilevsky says: 'When you get it right, using celebrities more than returns on your investment.'