The ethics of celebrity sponsorship

When the concept first started in the 1930’s celebrity endorsement was a straightforward affair. Pay someone famous enough, well enough, to smile cheerily and extol the virtues of your product and eager, easily influenced consumers would flock to buy your product. And still, most of the time, the brand holds all the cards.

Kate Moss and Tiger Woods were both dropped from lucrative sponsorship agreements when their moral credentials were called into question. Although it did Moss’s ‘bad girl’ brand equity no harm at all. The reverse, even. After a trip to Arizona and a grovelling apology, she was reinstated by the brands who dropped her and earned a few new ones in the process.

Why has it got so complicated recently? Lots of reasons, but the most significant one is perhaps ethics. Ethics, authenticity and provenance are now key purchase drivers in almost every sector. Consumers care that businesses care. Businesses use ethical credentials to leverage their brand. Many put it at the heart of their brand strategy.

The dynamic between brand and celebrity has changed because of this. More and more often, the shoe is on the other foot. A celebrity has their own brand image to worry about and any company offering wads of cash for endorsement, however huge, must be aligned with this. Today ‘ethics’ equals good business practice, so in fact the decision might be viewed as an entirely commercial one.

Jamie Oliver, the chef known for promoting healthy eating in schools and his very long standing relationship with Sainsbury’s supermarket, has reportedly rejected approaches from Coca Cola and Nestlé. A decision that values principles over a sweet deal and huge bank balance? Or simply sound business that ensures long-term brand equity, credibility and thus a continued healthy bank balance?

Bollywood actress Kareena Kapoor turned down a 60,000,000 rupee deal to endorse a chicken brand. Although one wonders if this was a publicity stunt on behalf of the brand – the actress was voted the world’s sexist vegetarian by PETA in 2008 and attributed the accolade to her healthy diet.

These shifts are no bad thing. They are all part of the trend in ‘shared value’. In the ever-evolving relationship between brands and celebrities, we have arrived at a position where both parties encourage each other to promote social and environmental responsibility. In theory, it’s a kind of virtuous circle whereby everyone benefits, consumers, society and the environment.

Michael Surguladze

Luxury lifestyle connoisseur, entrepreneur, premium payment cards expert, travel specialist and football enthusiast...(Read More)

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