These 3 Elements Make Celebrity Brand Endorsements Win

How social media data can shape successful influencer campaigns

Advertising runs on the axiom of — “take my word for it.” Whether it’s a pile of tires shaped like a man, a smart alec gecko or Britney Spears, commercials want to charm you with someone telling you how and why they love a brand.
We all remember the Nike commercial with Michael Jordan’s giving a pep talk in his baritone voice, Daniel Craig straightening his tie to flaunt the Omega wristwatch and Angelina Jolie looking suave with a Louis Vuitton bag even on a boat in a swamp. Celebrities embody the product they endorse by letting their personalities blend with the brand in order to establish a deeper, more personal connection with the consumer.
For brands, such celebrity endorsements help improve recall and build a loyal customer base. But the route to a successful endorsement campaign depends on several factors like popularity of the celebrity, sharing brand values with the endorser’s persona and public standing. But with the evolving marketing landscape, have these influencer metrics also evolved over time? The short answer is not yet. And the long answer is, it will be, with social media changing the game.

For brands, not only is social media a valuable medium that exposes the brand to new audiences, social conversations are rich with consumer insights that help companies identify and engage with them in unconventional ways. Take for instance, the McDonald’s commercial featuring TV star Mindy Kaling that created a hype on social. Kaling is in a bright yellow dress against a red backdrop asking viewers to run a Google search for “that place where Coca Cola tastes so good.” All McDonald’s had to do was build enough curiosity and hype, without so much as mentioning its name.
In this post we look at how social media can help brands identify the factors for a successful celebrity endorsement campaign by focusing on key areas like:

  • Target audience
  • Brand and influencer affinities
  • Shared brand values

First comes the audience, then the influencer

In Rihanna, Puma not only found an ambassador but also a designer. Last year, the German sportswear company’s fourth-quarter sales rose 11.5%, after it improved its standing with its sought-after female customer base with Rihanna as the pitchwoman.
Touted as one of the most successful endorsement campaigns in recent times, Puma credited Rihanna for boosting sales. The brand named her women’s creative director in 2014 and hasn’t looked back since. To put this success in numbers: The company’s 2015 fourth quarter earnings totalled €879 million (roughly $975 million) in sales, which were up 17 % from the previous year, exceeding of €847.9 million.
Puma’s choice to rope in Rihanna was deliberate and a well-researched one, after it defined its target audience as being staunchly female. And among the age group that Puma is popular (women under 18), Rihanna is more than just a pop star. She is an icon who is glorified for her authenticity and defiance.
Some call her a goddess, some call her a queen, to some others she is a diva who is, to put in social parlance, #goals. And to give her the adulation she deserves, the government of her home country Barbados is reportedly naming a street after her.

Puma picking Rihanna as its ambassador was not incidental — when we looked at the social audience discussing Rihanna (women under the age of 18)

Turns out is the same as those who talk about Puma on social.

After a 2015 study named her the most marketable celebrity, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Puma hit the jackpot by betting on Rihanna.

And…it’s a match

Determining the target audience, albeit important, is just the first step in a brand’s journey of creating a successful campaign. But what follows after?
To fans of Jake Gyllenhall, the Brokeback Mountain star represents love, intimacy and romance — exactly the feelings Calvin Klein wanted to evoke to connect with its audience.
In a new commercial for Calvin Klein’s 30-year-old scent, Eternity, Gyllenhaal plays a doting father reciting lines from an e.e. cummings poem to a four year old. Calvin Klein created the scent in 1988 to induce the warmth stirred up by familial bonds and a sense of permanence. And then trusted Gyllenhall to imbue it for the audience with his persona.
Social media analysis of CK’s audience and their affinities sheds light on why Gyllenhaal was the right choice. The fragrance is a hit among women over 35.
Unsurprisingly, Gyllenhaal’s popularity reigns supreme in the same demographic.

Identifying the target audience is just the means to a bigger end. Analyzing and grouping the audience further reveals their interests, topics they like to discuss and their affinities.
When we compared the interests of those discussing Jake Gyllenhaal and CK Eternity, we found that they share common topics of interest. While fashion brings the audience together, there are other overlapping topics like soccer, actors, basketball.

CK’s strategy to speak to women through the warmth of Jake Gyllenhaal’s dad character is also a well calculated move. A neuroscience-based research found that women have higher levels of engagement with advertising than men. Even gender-neutral ads performed 35% better among women than men as women pay more attention to ads, specifically with themes of people and relationships.


Putting the money where the mouth is..

Finding the right advocate for a brand can be an introspective process that calls for aligning the brand image with that of the influencer, making sure their charisma  works for the intended audience and is authentic.
But what if brands can recruit a celebrity who is also a proclaimed fan?
If there is one thing people associate TV star Mindy Kaling with, it’s her love for food, and especially for McDonald’s. So much so that she was teased as being its brand ambassador, long before she was.
“If you follow me on any kind of social media you will see that I’m constantly eating McDonald’s, and not in a campy, skinny-actress way where I go when I’m on my period and ‘being bad!’” she wrote in her book, ‘Why Not Me?’. “I go regularly enough that the woman at the Crescent Heights & Sunset McDonald’s gives me ranch and buffalo sauce packets for my McNuggets without me having to ask.”
The ad starring Kaling capitalizes on her fondness for McDonald’s and succeeds in creating brand recall by association, of course by dropping big hints, starting with the color theme — It features Kaling wearing a bright yellow dress against a red backdrop where she asks viewers to run a Google search for “the place where Coke tastes so good.” The ad ends with “the place where Coke tastes so now selling any size for $1.”
The commercial nails it by building up curiosity and using McDonald’s core value proposition — price.   For the brand that McDonald’s is, it just had to create the right association for its audience. Roping in Kaling to endorse the brand seemed like asking a long-time fan to give a testimonial.
It’s easy to see why she was a natural choice as an ambassador — in some sense, she has always been one. Post the release of the commercial, Kaling was quick to share her excitement on Twitter and asked if she could be paid in fries (another clue?)

McDonald’s accomplished what it set out to achieve — recall value. When we looked at social media conversations about the commercial, the words mentioned most often were “coke”, “fries”, “mcdonald” and “name.”


Social media with its democratized platforms has created influencers out of ordinary people. But for brands to pick a face that personifies it can be risky business. It involves audience segmentation, crystallizing the message and picking a personality that embodies those values.
Luckily, social media conversations are rich with insights about what consumers like and dislike, who they love or hate and who influences them. Social media is not just another medium carrying a message, it’s in fact a handbook that tells brands what messages work and how to send them.

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