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When celebrity pitchmen go bad

Hanes’ decision to end its advertising campaign featuring Charlie Sheen, following the actor’s domestic violence charges, comes right on the heels of a flurry of other terminated celebrity partnerships stemming from the Tiger Woods scandal.
Given the recent spate of high-profile celebrity partnerships turned sour, many brand marketers are scrambling as they rethink their celebrity engagement strategies for 2010. But, before you hit the panic button, be sure to take a step back and carefully weigh the benefits and risks of celebrity engagement.
Celebrity spokespeople can be a powerful addition to a marketing communications strategy. Celebrities have strong influence with consumers and drive valuable media coverage and exposure for a brand. But there can be some risk involved. Keep in mind that celebrities are human beings – meaning they have plenty of flaws and are apt to make mistakes. While most celebrity partnerships go off without a hitch, those that don’t often end up splashed across news headlines, creating problems (and headaches) for brand marketers.
So what’s the best approach for maximizing value from a celebrity partnership while minimizing your risks?

  • Do your homework – In addition to the basics of ensuring a celebrity partner is a good fit for your brand and your target audience, conduct a thorough background check to uncover any “skeletons” that may be hiding in his or her closet. If a celebrity has been tied to scandals in the past or has had previous run-ins with the law, be aware of the risk you are taking.
  • Set clear parameters – When developing a contract with a celebrity, clearly outline your expectations and behaviors that will result in termination of the contract. Be sure to structure your contract in a way that gives you an out if the celebrity should engage in behavior that is not in keeping with your brand.
  • Be prepared – Tiger Woods is a prime example that even celebrities with a squeaky clean image can be a risk, so prepare for the worst. Have a clearly defined action plan for handling a crisis involving your celebrity spokesperson. Determine in advance what key factors you will use in deciding your course of action. Be sure to identify the key decision makers and map out how you will communicate your decision. This will allow you to take swift action if the need should arise.
  • Act quickly and decisively – In the hours following a scandal involving your celebrity partner, what you do – and don’t – say can have a significant impact on your brand. Hanes’ quick decision to pull its ad campaign sent a very clear message to consumers about its brand values to ensure the Hanes brand image stayed intact.
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