How Ueber-Brands turn Celebrity Endorsements on their Head

Celebrities are extremely popular as endorsers.  Take David Beckham, the ex-soccer star, for instance, who has managed to be ‘the face’ of Adidas, Belstaff, Breitling, Burger King, Disneyland, Emporio Armani, Gillette, GO (fish fingers), Motorola, Milk (got it?), Pepsi, Police, Sainsbury’s, Samsung, Sky TV, just to name a few.  All that in addition to seeing products launched under his own name, like a perfume by Coty or underpants by H&M or the Haig Club whisky developed by David and friends (with some help from Diageo)’.   You could call Mr. Beckham an endorsement mercenary (to be nice).

Google Image search results for 'Beckham endorser'

Google Image search results for ‘Beckham endorser’

While also ‘employing’ celebrities, Ueber-Brands tend to shy away from those promiscuous endorsers and certainly from the common ways of using them – which usually involve somehow getting the product next to their broad smile. Brands so desperately in need of star-wattage obviously consider themselves less worthy – and that does not work for Ueber-Brands.  They might want the uplift – but certainly do not want to be up-staged.  Thus they usually turn the relationship between brand and endorser on its head, elevating the brand by showing the celebrity as humble user or as the one paying tribute to the brand.  For before God, the king and the Ueber-Brand, we are all equal.

Berluti InitiatedLuxury shoe maker Berluti lets us understand that you don’t just ‘see and buy’ their shoes. Rather, you might be admitted to a world of custom tailored shoes that are knotted a certain way and polished under the light of a quarter moon – with Venetian linen, cream and champagne, no less (but that is a piece of brand myth we will cover separately on this blog).  No wonder then that we are told that even a Jeremy Irons was ‘initiated’ to this world (by another celebrity, Peter Sellers, of course) and that he tells us about the ‘honor’ to now incarnate the Berluti style.  Take a look look at the print ad to the left.  Who is the hero, there? Artist Maurizio Cattelan, his ‘initiator’ Buster Keaton or that precious pair of bespoke shoes…?

The Mandarin Oriental hotel has translated the idea of celebrity as fan literally into an iconic campaign. Since 2000 over two dozen famous faces from actors Morgan Freeman or Sophie Marceau to author Frederick Forsyth or architect I.M. Pei have been pictured as ‘fans’ (the fan also being the logo of the hotel).  Their names, professions and the reasons why can be found in the fine print below, together with the note that the hotel is ‘donating $10,000 to a charity of the individual’s choice in appreciation of their support’. The modest donation suggests that the celebrity volunteered rather than being paid for his or her services – and many are reported to have done so in earned media.

P-20141025-00116_HiRes JPEG 24bit RGBRed Bull might spend hundreds of millions on its events but the extreme athletes performing in them never strike us as hired endorsers. From soap box racers to F1 champion Sebastian Vettel, the focus is on how Red Bull grooms and supports them in their endeavours, not whether they drink Red Bull. Testimony to this organic partnership is the fact that despite hundreds of sponsorships, hardly any formal contracts exist – at least, that’s what’s being reported.

George Clooney NespressoThe folks at Nespresso insist that it was their Club members who ‘elected’ George Clooney as a ambassador worthy of their brand, rather than him being hired by some marketing manager.  He, also, had to be ‘admitted to the club’, if you want.  Consequently, the ads play with the idea of Nespresso being more important than ‘George Who?’ as one of the Nespresso films is entitled.  The brand is the Ueber-Hero.  Clooney is shown being out-attracted by a fine cup of Nespresso or mistaken for a valet by Club members (friend Matt Damon, John Malkovich or Penelope Cruz do not fare much better in other films – see link below).  The print and billboard ads show the star as a Nespresso drinker and simply affirm ‘What Else?’ or zoom him out to focus on the cup of espresso he holds in his hand, instead.  The consistent and confident message: Nespresso is more suave and sexier than one of the sexiest men (or women) alive. 

Some really seminal campaigns take this idea of mutual or reverse endorsement to the top, stylizing themselves as a privilege for the ‘celebrity’. Think of the now famous ‘J’Adore’ commercial where Charlize Theron arrives backstage to model for Dior and is put into an array of timeless icons like Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly. This seriously begs the question: who endorses whom? Charlize, Dior or vice versa?

Book beauty shot with marble verticalSources and further reading:

This post was adapted from a sidebar in our book “Rethinking Prestige Branding

The Jeremy Irons film by Berluti

The Mandarin Oriental campaign

One of the Nespresso – Clooney films (more on that Youtube Channel)

The Dior film with Charlize

About JP Kuehlwein

JP Kuehlwein is a global business leader and brand builder with a 25+ year track record of translating consumer and brand insights into transformational propositions that win in market. Principal at ‘Ueber-Brands’ a New York consulting firm, he now helps others to elevate brands and make them peerless and priceless. JP also teaches brand strategy at NYU Stern and Columbia Business School and leads the Marketing Institute at The Conference Board, all in New York. Jp previously was Executive Vice President at Frédéric Fekkai & Co, a prestige salon operator and hair care brand and lead brand- and corporate strategy development and execution at multinational Procter & Gamble as Brand Director and Director of Strategy. JP and Wolf Schaefer have co-authored the best-selling books “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueber-Brands” which lays out what drives the success of modern premium brands and "Brand Elevation - Lessons in Ueber-Branding" a guide to developing and executing a brand elevation strategy. Find the books here:
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1 Response to How Ueber-Brands turn Celebrity Endorsements on their Head

  1. Pingback: Nespresso – Coffee as ‘Crema’ de la Crème | Ueber-Brands

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