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Direct Response Marketing

Seeing Stars

1 Mar, 2013 By: Kirsten Saladow Response

Picking the right celebrity endorser for your product — and getting the best value out of your investment — remains one of DR’s trickiest tests. The leading experts in the field share their secrets.


Celebrity endorsements are not new to direct response advertising. They’ve been used for years, but in a quickly changing media landscape, utilizing celebrity spokespeople properly is more important than ever.

Brokering a deal with a celebrity can be complicated, confusing and can cause your company plenty of problems if done incorrectly. Some marketers want nothing but celebrities in their advertisements while others prefer “real” people — determining when to use talent vs. a real person can be a hard choice for executives.

Defining Celebrity

“The first and most important thing you can really do is define celebrity,” says Blair Taylor, agent at Commercial Talent Agency in Los Angeles. “That might sound silly, but a celebrity is not always a traditional television or film actor. Take Dr. Andrew Ordon, for example. You might not have heard of him, but in medical circles, he’s an uber-celebrity.”

Taylor has been placing talent in both traditional and direct response advertising for the past 16 years and has placed clients on more than 800 advertising campaigns.

“Celebrity is relative. If you are working on a fitness product, for example, it might make more sense to have an expert trainer as your spokesperson instead of a television actress. A celebrity should bring credibility to your product and not just be famous,” contends Taylor.

Creating a celebrity is possible as well. Taylor has learned that really understanding the brand and the creative direction can make a huge difference in creating the right spokesperson for your brand.

“If you have a really great concept and book the correct person, you can absolutely create a celebrity,” he says. “The best example I have is my work with Old Spice. I booked Isaiah Mustafa as ‘the man your man should be’ for the Old Spice commercials and they were so popular that Isaiah became an instant celebrity and succeeded in bringing Old Spice back in popularity.”

How to Hire a Celebrity Endorser

Hiring a celebrity can be overwhelming and, if you misstep, it can cost your company a lot of time and money. The first step is to find a company that specializes in endorsement deals, such as an entertainment law firm, a celebrity consulting company, or an ad agency with a celebrity division.

“When you want to hire a celebrity, find an organization that has experience in your category and the type of deal you want to secure,” says Robert Yallen, president and CEO of the Inter/Media Group of Companies, based in Woodland Hills, Calif.

It’s important to seek out an organization that has the advertiser’s back and isn’t looking out for the best interest of the celebrity.

“I represent the advertiser, not the talent. It is my job to protect the best interest of the advertiser — meaning I want to get them the best deal and best celebrity for their brand for the least amount of money,” says Noreen Jenney Laffey, president of Celebrity Endorsement Network.

Yallen emphasizes that finding an organization that is on the side of the advertiser is key to creating a positive deal for your brand.

“Celebrities have plenty of people looking out for them. Be sure to find somebody that is looking out for you and your brand’s best interests,” says Yallen, a member of the Response Advisory Board.

Once you find the appropriate organization to help you navigate a deal, you need to determine deal metrics. First and foremost, that means figuring out what your budget is. “A budget is going to absolutely drive your deal,” says Yallen.

Jenney Laffey agrees with Yallen and finds that deals typically are made two ways. The first is when a company knows which celebrity it wants to work with and is willing to pay for that celebrity at any cost. The second is when a company approaches her with a specific budget in mind and wants to know who they can get.

Finding the correct celebrity to engage with your customers can be trying — once you find the celebrity you consider the right talent, they might not see your brand as a fit with them and their career.

The first rules to remember are that celebrities don’t love doing commercials and celebrities especially hate direct response. You need to recognize that direct response isn’t favored,” says Yallen.

Jenney Laffey adds, “Managing the expectations of my client is an important part of my job. Not every celebrity in the world is going to fall in love with a product and want to be involved with it because it’s wonderful. The truth is, there are a lot of celebrities that wouldn’t consider direct response advertising for any amount of money and that’s something to absolutely be aware of.”

Yallen warns companies to be sure to do their due diligence when hiring a celebrity. “Just like any deal, make sure you have a lawyer involved to draft contracts and morality clauses. You want to make sure your brand is represented properly at all costs,” he says.

When to Use a Celebrity

“Only use a celebrity if there is an actual need to use one,” Taylor contends. “It tends to be unnecessary to use a celebrity if your product is unique and stands alone. However, a skincare product, for example, can benefit from a celebrity testimonial to differentiate from thousands of other skincare products in the marketplace.”

Yallen agrees, adding, “Not every product or service requires a celebrity. It’s not necessary to use a celebrity when you aren’t building a brand — a short-term direct response hit doesn’t require a celebrity. However, if you are building a brand, a celebrity can add a tremendous amount of value. Using the right celebrity increases your chances of success, particularly in crowded categories.”

Talent needs to be the right fit for your brand — not only do they need to make sense for your product, but they also need to be believable and genuinely interested in what you are selling.

“Before hiring a celebrity, I take them to lunch or dinner and look into their eyes and make sure they want to be a partner to this brand,” Yallen says. “They need to be vested and not just show up for the commercial shoot and leave. I want to know that they are thinking about the brand all of the time and proactively wanting to contribute. I won’t sign them until I know that they aren’t just taking this opportunity for a quick couple of bucks — I make sure to treat this conversation like a job interview.”

Yallen believes the top considerations to using a celebrity in your campaign are: how well the celebrity fits the demographics/psychographics of the target audience; if the celebrity is believable and credible; the celebrity’s connection to the brand; and if the celebrity can sell the product or offer.

“When it comes to direct response, a celebrity needs to have the ability to look into the camera and sell a product or service. People underestimate how difficult this can be,” Taylor says. “Being a celebrity doesn’t mean you are a host. You see examples of this when you see a celebrity host an award show or fundraiser — sometimes they don’t do well. Hosting and selling are different skill sets than acting.”

Sue Nelson, president of Super People Inc., thinks it’s in every brand’s best interests to use a spokesperson that best represents the brand — whether that’s a celebrity or a “real” person.

“While I think using celebrities absolutely makes sense in direct response advertising, I have found that using real people in testimonials can translate better than using a celebrity,” Nelson says. “It’s all about believability and seeing a real person that has had their life changed by a product gets the phone ringing.”

Benefits of Celebrity Endorsers Lead to Costs

According to Yallen, there are a number of reasons to use a celebrity in a direct response campaign beyond the bottom line.

  • For retail, celebrities help sell-in products and can meet with store buyers
  • Public relations opportunities
  • Collateral materials
  • On-hold IVR telemarketing messaging
  • Back-end materials to help close sales
  • VIP meet-and-greet sessions
  • Motivational aspects — personal events with sales and telemarketing personnel, key executives and key vendors
  • Hosting events (including charitable events)

But these things add to the toughest negotiating point when bringing a celebrity on to a campaign: cost. Using a celebrity or expert in a direct response campaign is not only complicated, it’s expensive.

“Traditional film and television actors are used to traditional commercial deal structures,” Taylor says. “They’ll expect a seven-figure deal upfront. One of the benefits to using an expert or celebrity that isn’t a traditional film or television actor is that they might be more coachable into traditional direct response pricing structures.”

He adds, “I’ve paid as much as $500,000 for a celebrity host up-front. If budget is a concern and you want a celebrity, a testimonial might be an option for you as opposed to hiring a celebrity to host a direct response infomercial.”

Since hiring a celebrity can be quite expensive, Yallen advises doing a test first. For example, if Yallen finds a celebrity that costs $300,000 per year, he would offer to pay this celebrity $50,000 for a four-month test. That way, if the test is not successful, the DR company is not out the full $300,000 for an advertisement that didn’t work. But if the test is successful, then it becomes a great investment to pay the celebrity the remaining $250,000 for the year.

“The cost really depends on the scope of work,” he says. “A lot depends on if it’s a national or local advertisement and what types of media are involved — be it television, radio or online. It also depends on appearance days required and production days. For a normal direct response deal, it costs us at least $25,000 minimum. The average range tends to be between $25,000 and $100,000 — but can be a lot more than that,” says Yallen.

Using real people opposed to celebrities in an advertisement can also be cost effective for a brand.

“All of the real people testimonials I book are unpaid,” Nelson says. “They are speaking out about the brand or product because they believe in it, and it did positive things for them. The maximum that the person receives for participation tends to be free product and travel expenses covered for the commercial shoot. There is a misconception that these people are paid, but that is absolutely not true.”

Celebrities on Social Media

The media landscape has changed dramatically in the past five years. Social media has become the way people get their news, buy their products and follow trends. “Social media should absolutely be part of the scope of services offered, including having your celebrity spokesperson constantly tweeting on your behalf,” says Yallen.

While you might notice celebrities like Kim Kardashian tweeting about a particular product or service, the majority of the time they aren’t doing that out of the goodness of their heart for a product they love — they are doing it because they are paid. Reportedly, some celebrities can make six figures for sending out a couple of 140 character tweets in favor of a brand.

“Just like traditional advertising, some celebrities will tweet endorsements for a fee and some won’t,” Jenney Laffey says. “Sometimes an advertiser will get lucky and a celebrity will talk about a product because they love it, but more often than not, a celebrity will want to get paid for this service.”

There is no denying the impact of social media — and its influence is only growing according to Taylor.

“Social media has the benefit of brining in a trusting audience,” Taylor contends. “People following a celebrity on Twitter or Facebook already trust and like the celebrity, so something they endorse will be believable to them. When I work with celebrities, I make sure to organically create opportunities for them to mention your product via social media — it feels natural and will reach an engaged and trusted audience.” ■


About the Author: Kirsten Saladow


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