Q&A with Kantar’s Ver Barrios on Celebrity Endorsers

Vermailene “Ver” Barrios is the senior director of Kantar insights division and creative solution country lead of Kantar. In this interview, she shares insights about the use of celebrity endorsers. 

Q1: When is it wise to use celebrity endorsers and under what situations can choices be problematic?

A1: In most cases, the use of celebrity endorsers is a lazy (sorry!) way used to have better advertising cut-through or awareness, land brand values and encourage purchase. Most of the best creatives (that, of course, sell) are those that communicate the brand promise clearly and in a compelling way, aligned to the brand’s archetypal character without finding the need to rely on the popularity of celebrities.  On the other hand, it cannot be denied that celebrity endorsers wield much power and may be used in very effective ways by brands.

It becomes problematic when the celebrity has baggage – a controversial past without a redemptive twist, or is deemed polarizing due to contentious choices or personality. Ultimately, the BIG MUST is that celebrities fit the values and personality of the brand he or she is endorsing. For example, Nicky Minaj may not be the best celebrity endorser for a traditional pharma brand. Her personality will not fit the brand, and it may not be believable and convincing for the consumers.

Nonetheless, if a company or brand wants to relaunch with a totally new positioning or wants to reinvent itself, the use of a celebrity endorser may work wonders for as long the celebrity fits the intended reinvention.

In short, the celebrity must be well-suited to the brand beyond simply being popular.

Q2: What criteria should companies use to choose their celebrity endorsers well? 

A2: As mentioned, ultimately, the most important criteria is value fit. The celebrity and the brand must represent, live, and breathe the same values and principles, and from this alignment of values, the rest will follow — personality fit and authenticity of portrayal.  Why was Aga Muhlach effective before as Jollibee’s celebrity endorser?  It was because he and the brand both exuded wholesome fun. With conflicting values being attached to Toni Gonzaga currently, depending on which political side one is, it will be interesting to observe what her latest endorsement will result in a backlash or much-needed boost for the brand being endorsed.

There is also the matter of authenticity. For example, a celebrity endorses a chocolate brand but the celebrity is outspoken in his/her social media about not eating sweets. The endorsement then comes across as a sham, and it becomes problematic for the audience to believe it.

Q3: How can brands quantify the economic worth of celebrity endorsers?

A3: As far as I know, there is no exact calculation or valuation of the celebrity’s worth to the brand he/she is endorsing, but the return on investment can be quantified by the impact the celebrity brings to the brand, which can be measured through ease of cutting through or awareness for the brand, creating virality, boosting consideration, lifting shopping power, and ultimately drive sales.

Q4: What would be the effect when a celebrity endorser switches to a competing brand subsequently? 

A4: Although there is usually a non-compete or exclusivity clause in a celebrity’s contract with any brand, switching does happen occasionally after the contract expires.  Often, this is ballyhooed to encourage consumers to make the same brand switching as well.  Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t, and likely it relies heavily on how positive or negative the impression about the celebrity endorser is related to her/his choices in general.  Is the person perceived to be lacking in loyalty, a much-valued trait among Filipinos, or is she/he seen as always making the wise choice?

For celebrities who are well sought-after by brands, the trap is commoditization. A celebrity becomes a commodity when he/ she endorses so many brands across different categories or industries that it becomes difficult to identify him/her with any particular brand.  Remember that advertising is all about creating brand memories that should serve as trigger when a need arises in specific moments of potential purchase.

Overextending a celebrity endorser may even result in misattribution, which could mean a brand in one category could be spending precious marketing money for a different brand in a different industry that the same celebrity also endorses.

Q5: What is the marketer’s responsibility in the use of celebrity endorsers? 

A5: I think a marketer’s responsibility in choosing and using celebrity endorsers is two-pronged: the first, of course, is to the marketer’s own brand.  The celebrity should embody the same values and principles of the brand.  The second one could also be a responsibility to the public because the choice and use of any celebrity is an indirect support to the values and principles of the celebrity, whether those values and principles are aligned with the marketer’s brand.

Further, especially in this day and age, choosing a celebrity should not be seen as something for the here and now only.  The internet, particularly, has a long memory. Choosing a celebrity just for popularity but has a controversial or polarizing past or even questionable present can be detrimental to a brand, and who knows – even to society. Due diligence in researching about the celebrity is very critical. Always, always check your brand’s fit with the endorser on values, principles, personality and ensure authenticity of portrayal.

Q6: What kind of research should companies do to ensure there won’t be any backlash in the use of an endorser? 

A6: In Kantar, we make use of what we call Intuitive Associations, which is a research technique to associate several words (positive and negative) to a product or a brand or celebrity within seconds, without much rational thinking. We measure the % of people associating the word to the celebrity, as well as how quickly they choose the word. This is based on System 1 thinking, our brains’ fast, automatic, unconscious, and emotional response to situations and stimuli.  Using this technique, we derive many insights based on top words intuitively associated to the celebrity, which we then use to make recommendations to our clients if the celebrity fits the brand values and personality.

With so much at stake in the choice of celebrity endorsers, we believe it is a decision that should not be taken lightly and made hastily.  As with most other marketing elements that marketers manage, it pays to test first, capture human understanding and insights, and then make decisions that inspire brand growth.


Josiah Go is Chair and Chief Innovation Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc. Visit www.mansmith.net for details. 

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