Sarah Yana
Nov 22, 2010

Five things you need to know about using celebrities the smart way

Using celebrities in campaigns is a fact of advertising life in China. Almost three out four ads on TV use celebrities — a huge investment, as fees can cost more than the production itself, yet they do work.

Sarah Yana, director of client services, Y&R China
Sarah Yana, director of client services, Y&R China

But like any successful format, when it is constantly reapplied and copied to the point of overuse, there is a risk that the impact of a celebrity does little or nothing to enhance the brand or sell that brand to the consumer. Marketers constantly need to rethink how to use fame to sell brands.

At Y&R China we’ve just launched a new campaign for iconic US apparel brand, Gap – Let’s Gap Together – launching the brand in China, and featuring Chinese and American celebrities.  Sarah Yana, director of client services, Y&R China shares what they have learned:

1 Celebs should believe in the brand and its message — pretty important people signed up and moved their schedules because they believed in Gap's message for the China launch. 'Let's Gap Together' was not your expected 'fashionista' message from a clothing brand but an invitation for two great cultures to cooperate, exchange and have fun together. Celebs promptly RSVPed.

2 Capture substance not just style — there has to be more than just a pretty face, does your chosen celebrity encompass the ideals and ethos of your brand? If not, there's a risk that consumers will not believe the endorsement. A great example? Coke's CNY ad featuring Liu Xiang a few months after the Beijing Olympics where he could not run due to an injury. Very personal and intimate, it rings true to the endorser, the spirit of CNY and reinforces Coke's image of positivity. When it doesn't work — a European car brand used a local comedian with a very down to earth image as an endorser. Although the celebrity is well-liked, he is not perceived to be aspirational by the brand's potential buyers.

3 Resist the usual — celebs no longer just come from movies and music — the internet has given rise to a new generation of popular and influential people who, in this digital age, are attracting millions of fans online. We featured two famous bloggers, Wang Momo and Julia Frakes, in the Gap campaign because we felt they easily carried more cache of credibility than the cookie-cutter celebutante.

4 The brand is the biggest celebrity — which should go without saying — but too often it's forgotten. Whoever you choose to endorse your brand or feature in a campaign, the brand remains the superstar.

5 The story must be able to stand alone without the celebrity — Celebrities amplify your story and can help you to make a bigger noise but they alone do not make a story. Make sure your idea is compelling in its own right.

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