Will.i.am. Lady Gaga. Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Justing Timberlake. No, not a list of Grammy winners. Well, actually, yes, I’m pretty sure
they’ve all won Grammys, but they and others like them have also been tabbed as Creative Directors by brands looking make a splash. The brands tend to be technology companies looking to add a bit of coolness to their ‘science nerd’ persona. The Harvard Business Review blog has a piece on the trend worth checking out as well. Now, celebrity endorsements have been around for a very long time so grabbing a famous face is nothing new, and by making these talented people ‘Creative Directors’ it supposedly adds more authenticity to the enterprise.
But does it? Does the average person looking to buy a computer think, “I was going to get a laptop with an AMD processor, but with Will.i.am in place at Intel as ‘director of creative innovation,’ I guess I’ve got to go for the one with the i7 core instead.” Ok, on some level I can imagine that a laptop needs to be high performance for the type of stuff Will.i.am does – producing, mixing, etc., but how does that qualify him for the Intel gig. Movie stars need high performance toothpaste, but I wouldn’t buy Crest because Jennifer Lawrence was in the lab coming up with a new tartar control formulation.
But even partnerships like Gwen Stefani and HP, or Alicia Keys and Blackberry are more believable than Justin Timberlake and Bud Light Premium. Does anyone think JT drinks light beer? In fact, this pairing seems like it’s more harmful to Timberlake’s brand than it is helpful to BLP.
Of course there are other reasons that celebrity pairings are a dubious strategy. Many celebrities are just one movie, album, athletic season away from being yesterday’s news. Others remain in the spotlight, but for all the wrong reasons (crime, poor life choices, etc.). Here are three strategies that are more sensible than going the Celebrity Creative Director route:
Make Your Own Star
Yes, Apple has used celebrity in their ads. But the ‘celebrity’ most associated with Apple? Apple’s own Steve Jobs. If you had to name another it might be their Senior VP of Design, Jonathan Ive. Building celebrity from within has several advantages. For one, it’s a whole lot cheaper. It’s also a lot more credible. It was easy to believe Jobs was obsessed with Apple products because Apple was his sole focus. It’s a lot tougher to believe Lady Gaga was sweating the film game over at Polaroid. Making your own star can also be a strong way to tell employees or potential employees that the company sees the important role they play.
Make the Product the Star
The first thing I think when a brand announces a celebrity Creative Director is that the brand can stand on the merits of the product, and that instead of trying to make the product better, they’re going to try to dazzle me with a boldface name. When craftsmanship and quality are the core of your brand you don’t need much else. Look at Red Wing Shoes, Tiffany or even Starbuck’s. The product is what sells the brand.
Make the Customer the Star
Smart brands understand that their role is to make people’s lives more fulfilled, enriched, easier or otherwise better. Ultimately it is the enjoyment people get when using your product that is the magic. Put the customer front and center and you are on your way to creating a community, not just renting one from a celebrity. Perhaps no one knows this better than LEGO, who champion and showcase the great creations made by their fans, and have even created the LEGO Certified Professionals group.
Every brand is different and sometimes a celebrity partnership is the right way to go, but the celebrity Creative Director trend is one that can go away. There are better alternatives for brands.