Brands Cut Ties with Kanye: The Downsides of Celebrity Endorsements

The Downsides of Celebrity Endorsements

Celebrity partnerships aren’t always the profit-making tactic you think they are! One wrong move from the celeb can spell major trouble for your company.

On October 21, the designer clothing brand Balenciaga announced that it would no longer be working with Kanye West. Soon after, other companies, such as Adidas, Gap, the shoe-retailer Foot Locker, talent agency CAA and record label Def Jam, also cut ties with the artist. All of these brands decided to let go of West in such quick succession because of the antisemitic comments he made on social media in early October. Of course, the “White Lives Matter” t-shirt (for reference, the phrase is associated with white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan) he sported during the Paris Fashion Week didn’t make his case better. 

Companies took quite a gamble boycotting West, with Adidas being at risk of losing US$560 million from no longer selling Yeezy (West’s fashion label). Still, it has been the right decision given the public pressure to respond to West’s behavior. Besides showing us the collapse of his billion-dollar fortune, West’s fall from grace also encourages us to think about the negative aspects of working with celebrities. With that said, here are some things to be cognizant of when using celebrity endorsements. 

Changes in public opinion

West’s case makes it glaringly obvious that, although celebrities are quick to attract public attention, they can also lose it all with one mistake. The way their brand image changes can also directly affect the brands they work with. 

A good example of this is what happened in 2009 when pro golfer Tiger Woods had an extramarital affair. At this point in his career, Woods had been working with a lot of brands, including Adidas, Accenture, the telecom giant AT&T and video game maker Electronic Arts, to name a few. All brands working with Woods collectively lost 2% of their value within 10-15 days after the scandal broke. 

Becoming bigger than the brand 

Sometimes when a brand chooses to work with a particularly famous celebrity, they risk being eclipsed by the celebrity’s larger-than-life persona. In such a case, the customer focuses so much on the celebrity that it takes away from their ability to recognize the brand, especially if the celebrity is working with more than one company. 

A celebrity that fits in well here is the former football player David Beckham. Beckham has worked with so many brands over the years, including H&M, Adidas, Armani, Jaguar, Maserati, Pepsi and Tudor, that it might be hard for the customer to recall if it is your brand’s ads or if it was one of the many others.  

Endorsing one brand and using another

Another major issue with using a celebrity endorser is that while they might act in your advertisement, they may not actually like the product or use it in their day-to-day lives. Given how closely people follow celebrities today on social media, fans might instantly notice any slip-up in their use of the product. 

This is exactly what happened when Samsung partnered with the famous K-pop girl group Blackpink. Initially, the group stuck steadfast to their partnership, not even taking selfies on iPhones. Later, however, they began slipping up when posting pictures on Instagram with their iPhones in the frame.

Unethical or unauthorized ways of promoting the brand

A lot of celebrities today use social media to promote the businesses they work with. This can sometimes backfire if they choose to make posts that don’t align with the brand’s image or with the product’s marketing campaign. Alternatively, in some cases, celebrities may post about a brand without disclosing that they are being paid to do so. This can negatively affect both the brand and the celebrity’s image in the public eye. 

The latter has happened multiple times with the Kardashian clan. In 2016, advertising watchdog Truth In Advertising sent them a letter saying that it had found 100 Instagram posts in their collective social media accounts that were paid ads but had not been marked as such. This didn’t stop one of the most famous members of the family, Kim, from trying to conceal a sponsorship with the crypto asset Ethereum Max in October this year. The star has since been fined US$1.6 million for her transgression. 

Not being the right fit

Celebrity endorsement shouldn’t be done just for the sake of having a big name attached to your company. It is important to ensure that the celebrity actually fits in well with the brand, if not, then you are more likely to be ridiculed than attract more customers. 

Again, Beckham serves as a perfect example of a poor celebrity-product fit. In 1997, Beckham was hired as the face of the hairstyling brand Brylcreem for four years. But halfway through the contract, he shaved off his head. While the company continued to work with Beckham, their sales went down by 25% after his hairstyle change.

The final thing to be mindful of is that celebrity endorsements cost a lot of money—not just if you agree to finalize a deal with the celebrity but also later if things don’t pan out as you intended. Throughout this article, you have heard how endorsement failures led to a fall in sales, revenues and overall company value. So, if you take away only one thing from this article, let it be this: carefully vet the celebrity you want to work with before you sign any long-term contracts. Avoid jumping at the chance of working with a celebrity, especially if you think you are doing fine without it. 

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Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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