By Quentin Fottrell
The world’s most famous Swedish automaker is betting the world’s most famous Taiwanese-American basketball star can help it sell cars. But history shows that predicting which celebrity endorsements work is as tricky as guessing which Harvard dribblers are NBA material.
On Monday, Volvo announced that 23-year-old New York Knicks star will become its “brand ambassador” across seven international markets — including the U.S. and China. It’s one of the first major brand endorsements for Lin. “Asia is on the rise and so are Asian celebrities,” says Singapore-based business and brand strategist Martin Roll. He says Volvo is banking on the fact that Lin’s star is still on the rise. Brand consultants, however, say such cross-cultural celebrity endorsements are also fraught with difficulties. In 2008, for instance, Christian Dior dropped all advertisements featuring Sharon Stone after the actress made comments about an earthquake there being “karma” for not freeing Tibet.
When the celebrity association works, of course, it can create major sales. Dr. Dre’s partnership with HTC Corp. on Beats headphones, for example, is a perfect fit and has helped generate consumer demand, says Timothy Derdenger, assistant professor of marketing and strategy at the Tepper School of Business. Sales of the headsets have are said to account for nearly half the $1 billion U.S. market. That helps explain why celebrities appear in around 15% of advertisements, according to a survey by market researcher Millward Brown.
To score, experts say companies need to convince consumers that their pitchmen would actually use the product — even if they weren’t being paid to promote. Some celebrity endorsements make cute ads, but make little sense, says Scott Barbour, CEO of marketing and management consultants Cre8tive Partners. Barbour failed to see the connection between Jerry Seinfeld and Microsoft, singer Jay-Z and Hewlett Packard, Ozzy Osbourne and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter or Kobe Bryant and Turkish Airways. “Do we believe Kobe flies Turkish airways all the time or Ozzy Osbourne uses a vegetable oil spread instead of butter?” Barbour says. “The age-old practice of slapping an endorsement on a product to help with sales and marketing has gone stale.”
Here are 5 memorable celebrity endorsements. Some boosted sales and the brand, others ended badly: