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Can Jeremy Lin Sell Volvos?

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.

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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:

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    • Hey, Patrick, just for your information (and apparently you’re not checking any facts or have watched much games recently), the two “real” stars of the Knicks that you mentioned had been back and they have not been good enough to win the games for the Knicks. It has been Lin who made the points to bring home the win. He may not be your typical “star”, but you would not get any wins soon with your “real” stars.

    • I guess that I never got the celebrity endorsement thing. If I’ve never heard of a product before, maybe a commercial with a celebrity would catch my attention long enough for me to become aware of the new product and hence, slightly increase my odds of buying the product. But celebrity endorsements of products I already know about are not going to increase my odds of buying the product even a little. Maybe children fall for that gimmick, but common, Volvo thinks I’ll buy a Volvo because some kid is a really good basketball player? I don’t get the connection.
      One ad I will stop to watch is one with Ellen Degeneres because it’s a funny ad. But I’m not going to spend more money at Kohl’s, or is it Penny’s, just because she claims to shop there.

    • I’d like to question why Jeremy Lin seems to be the only celebrity who has to be identified based on their parents country of origin. Neither Sharon Stone, George Foreman, Tiger Woods, Madonna nor Dr Dre (whoever he is) need to be identified as xxx-American. I’m not even sure if Sharon, Madonna and Dr Dre are even US citizens. This is an article about the extent to which celebrities name and image endorsement adds value to their international consumer products. While it may be interesting to determine whether a Asian-American’s endorsement is valuable in Asian countries, the article doesn’t seem to care about comparing the endorsements of Sharon et al to the countries of their birth parents.

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