From the late 1930s, celebrity and athlete endorsements have been a popular marketing ploy for companies, with the earliest example being baseball star Babe Ruth endorsing Red Rock Cola, a soft drinks company (Bradic, 2015). Typically, companies use celebrities and athletes to attract attention of potential customers, strengthen their marketing message, refine their brand image and give themselves an opportunity to enter other geographical markets (Grzegorz & Martyna, 2014). However, an increased Return on Investment (ROI) is the ultimate driver as to why companies continue to endorse celebrities and atheltes (Prentice & Zhang, 2014). It is estimated that when a brand signs a celebrity or athlete, sales are likely to increase by 4% on average (Olenski, 2016).
Traditionally, the athlete or celebrity would appear in TV commercials, feature at company events and wear the company’s products (Lear, Runyan & Whitaker, 2009). However, with the advancement of digital technologies endorsees are expected to do more, with Social Media being a strong area of focus. From a company’s perspective, using Social Media instead of traditional channels is a lot more cost efficient, with the average cost of a tweet from Twitter’s top 10 athletes costing $15,000, compared to a 30-second TV ad that cost $112,000 (Mamajek, 2016). Along with Social Media being more cost efficient, tracking the performance of Social Media campaigns is a lot easier than tracking the performance of traditional methods. KPI’s such as click through rates, page views and conversion rates are easy to access on the Social Media Analytics section, allowing companies to quickly grasp what content works and the specific endorsees that attract the most attention.
Social Media allows followers to gain insights into the everyday lives of celebrities and athletes (Bradic, 2015). This helps to make the content more relatable which can make the product endorsement seem more believable. Brands are using celebrity and athlete endorsements because ultimately, they are more appealing to customers than the brands themselves. For example, footballer Cristiano Ronaldo has more Twitter followers than Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Starbucks combined! (Sprinklr, 2013). Therefore, brands are endorsing athletes and celebrities and pushing content on their Social Media channels to increase their reach and appeal.
So, which brands are using endorsements on Social Media effectively?
In 2016, Manchester United signed Juventus FC player Paul Pogba for a world record £89million. Pogba is endorsed by Adidas who were quick to react to the transfer, pushing out a welcome video on their Social Media feeds which features Pogba and UK grime music artist Stormzy. Adidas were extremely prepared and anticipated the move, meaning they could react to the news immediately (Bacon, 2016). They also created history by creating a fusion of lifestyle, sports and music which created a hugely successful sports marketing campaign (Bacon, 2016). After this video, 153,000 mentioned the Pogba transfer, with over 12,000 people also referring to Stormzy and Adidas which increased their brand exposure (Bacon, 2016).
Unlike the previous example, where there is a clear link between Paul Pogba and the Adidas brand due to the sports focus. This example, shows how companies outside of the sports bracket can effectively endorse athletes. Cristiano Ronaldo has 160 million followers across his Social Media platforms, something watch brand TAGHeuer wanted to access (Crowdsight, 2016). In 2015, Ronaldo posted 6 times on Facebook over 2 days for TAGHeuer’s “Don’t Crack Under Pressure” campaign (Crowdsight, 2016). This message was effective as it linked Ronaldo’s mentality with the product attributes. The posts were viewed 35 million times, had 2.4 million likes in 2 days and TAGHeuer generated $380,000 in value for their brand (Crowdsight, 2016). To find more successful examples follow this link.
So, can companies get it wrong?
The main issue related to endorsing an athlete or celebrity is that everything they do has the potential to impact the brand. For example, if an athlete or celebrity is involved in controversy it can negatively affect the brand who endorse them. For example, in 2012 cyclist Lance Armstrong lost 8 sponsors in 1 single day, including Nike (Rotunno, 2012). Lance Armstrong was involved in a doping scandal that sponsors such as Nike desperately don’t want to be associated with, so they pulled the plug on the deal.
The increase in Social Media has also meant that mistakes from endorsees will never go unnoticed, once an athlete or celebrity has posted on a Social Media channel it becomes virtually impossible to ensure people don’t see the post even if it’s deleted in seconds. Carter (2014) mentioned that basketball player LeBron James sent out a tweet (left) that his phone erased everything and had rebooted. This is a normal tweet however, one of his largest sponsors is Samsung who supply him with a mobile phone and electronic devices. This meant that LeBron James’ tweet reflected badly on his main sponsor Samsung and he later issued a tweet saying he got all his information back and the issue had been resolved. To find more examples of endorsements going wrong follow this link.
Endorsing athletes or celebrities on Social Media has proved to be cost efficient and easier to track in comparison with traditional methods. However, companies must ensure they endorse athletes and celebrities that have similar values to them and utilize their Social Media channels to expand their reach.
Bacon, J. (2016) How Manchester United’s Paul Pogba transfer rewrote the rules of sports marketing. Marketing Week, 12th August 2016. [Online] <https://www.marketingweek.com/2016/08/12/how-the-paul-pogba-transfer-rewrote-the-rules-of-sports-marketing/> [Accessed 29th December 2017]
Bradic, L. (2015) Celebrity Endorsements on Social Media Are Driving Sales and Winning Over Fans. Social Media Week, 30th September 2015. [Online] <https://socialmediaweek.org/blog/2015/09/brands-using-celebrity-endorsements/ > [Accessed 3rd January 2018]
Carter, J. (2014) Six celebrity endorsements that have gone badly wrong. My Customer, 14th March 2014. [Online] <https://www.mycustomer.com/marketing/strategy/six-celebrity-endorsements-that-have-gone-badly-wrong> [Accessed 29th December 2017]
Crowdsight (2016) Top 10 Examples of Sponsors #Winning with Sports Stars on Social Media. [Online] <http://crowdsight.co/blog/top-10-examples-of-sponsors-winning-with-sports-stars-on-social-media/ > [Accessed 30th December 2017]
Grzegorz, K. & Martyna, K. (2014) Effect of Celebrity Endorsement in Advertising Activities by Product Type, International Journal of Management and Economics. Vol. 44, No. 1, pp. 74-91.
Lear, K.E., Runyan, R.C. & Whitaker, W.H. (2009) Sports celebrity endorsements in retail products advertising, International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management. Vol. 37, No. 4, pp. 308-321.
Mamajek, J. (2016) Athlete Marketing: Why you should include Social Media in your Athlete Sponsorship & Endorsement Strategies. Sports Link marketing, 10th November 2016. [Online] < https://www.sportslinkmarketing.com/single-post/2016/11/10/Athlete-Marketing-Why-you-should-include-Social-Media-in-your-Athlete-Sponsorship-Endorsement-Strategies> [Accessed 27th December 2017
Olenski, S. (2016) How Brands Should Use Celebrities For Endorsements. Forbes, 20th July 2016. [Online] <https://www.forbes.com/sites/steveolenski/2016/07/20/how-brands-should-use-celebrities-for-endorsements/#23e4f1bf5593 > [Accessed 28th December 2017]
Pinterest (2017) Feed [Online] <https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/575757133595883222/> [Accessed 28th December 2017]
Prentice, C. & Zhang, L. (2017) Celebrity endorsement and stock market return, Marketing Intelligence & Planning. Vol. 35, No. 4, pp. 529-543.
Rotunno, T. (2012) Armstrong Loses Eight Sponsors in a Day. CNBC, 18th October 2012. [Online] <https://www.cnbc.com/id/49462583> [Accessed 2nd January 2018]
Sprinklr (2013) Athletes in Social Media: An Untapped Marketing Resource. [Online] <https://blog.sprinklr.com/athletes-in-social-media/> [Accessed 29th December 2017]