Will brands dilute themselves through celebrity tie ups?

The Gap in the US has done a deal with music mogul and entrepreneur, Kanye West, and Coty has taken a controlling stake in Kylie Jenner’s beauty business. It is now worth asking whether brands are putting short term gain ahead of brand reputation.

Certainly, there are more tie ups than ever, as part of an industry that has been around since the earliest days of Hollywood, when silent screen stars were to be seen on the billboards smoking their way to an early grave.

Each to their own

In these partnerships, brands try to make sure they do what they do best while leaving the creative and communications side of things to the celebrity, as Coty has done with Jenner. Coty will be responsible, according to Fashion United, for the portfolio’s development, leveraging its global knowledge in manufacturing, distribution, commercial and go-to-market expertise.

When the actual celebrity courts the wrong type of fame, be it drink, drugs, relationship violence, or extreme opinions, then the brands are quick to distance themselves, perhaps taking consolation from the fact they made lots of money before things went wrong.

Oh, behave!

However, while some celebrities continue to make headlines for extreme behaviour that is actually going on every day in ordinary homes all over the world, others have recognised their star value and take care to live or appear to live a life that makes them infinitely marketable.

For all the clunkers over the years, topped by Hertz having to drop OJ Simpson back in 1992 for … well, you know the story, and there have been a few, including one very close to home when Dior had to drop its creative director, John Galliano for making aggressively anti-semitic statements in a Paris bar in 2011.

You look good on the CV

But given the sheer number of celebrity endorsements, sponsorships and brand tie-ups, it is clear that the whole business has become highly professionalised, backed by an army of lawyers who specialise in this sort of thing. It seems the benefits clearly outweigh the risks. And senior brand marketers of course love a tie up, the more expensive the better, because it looks good on their CV, so let’s accept that there are lots of ulterior motives in play.

My concern is some brands will become too dependent on celebrities to help them reach their markets. They are already having to manage more channels and media than at any time; even on line now divides into primary site, affiliates, marketplaces, social, apps. While there are plenty of third party tools that ensure that information and branding shows up consistently across channels, that’s really just the mechanics of brand promotion

My concern is more to do with the heart and soul of the brand, and I have a feeling that CFOs, accountants and shareholders are enforcing a level of hygiene that threatens to dilute these. And in the shadow of Black Lives Matter, Coronavirus and growing pressures to prove sustainability and good citizenship, brands risk being reduced to a life dictated from the pages of a health and safety manual, enforced by the in house legal team.

Are influencers the future?

There is a middle path, one that brands are embracing but may not have realised just how important it is. Influencers, rather than celebrities, while probably not as profitable, are a link between brands and their customers that is more personal, more authentic and more flexible. And this is going to matter as brands look to get direct access to their customers and not rely solely on retailers or marketplaces.

TikTok is a perfect example of brands, influencers and consumers collaborating on a level playing field. Everyone gets to take part and everyone gets something out of it; it is where marketing generally is going, neither push not pull. It looks a bit messy and highly experimental at the moment but that will change fast, particularly as consumers start to take control of both the medium and the message.

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