Using Celebrities to Enhance Your Cause-Related Marketing

Celebrities and Social Marketing, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Tuesday’s posting talked about MacGuffins, devices that impel your target market to action when you're doing cause marketing or social marketing. One MacGuffin is the use of celebrities.

In the illustration World Vision, an international Christian relief and development organization, is working with Hannah Teter, the Olympic gold medalist for the snowboarding halfpipe at the 2006 Winter Games in Torino. Teter commissioned the Mapleside Sugar House in Mt Holly, Vermont (Hannah’s home state), to create Hannah’s Gold grade A Vermont maple syrup. A portion of the proceeds goes to World Vision.

Celebrities bring public and media attention. For instance, Teter’s work for World Vision has won the 20-year-old acclaim as the ‘Sportswoman of Year’ award from the U.S. Olympic Committee. Some of that attention has devolved to World Vision. Certain celebrities can lend your campaign credibility. Some will actually donate money and expertise, in addition to their time. A few will lend you their Rolodex.

But celebrities can bring negatives along with the positives.

Cost. Even celebrities who are free are probably going to cost you something. Maybe they need frou-frou hotels, first-class flights, limos, special meals or extra rooms for their families and entourage. It’s prudent to devote a staffer or volunteer to attend to the celebrity during functions, so that costs staff time. If the celebrity is a performer, the riders in their contracts can be eye-opening. And don’t forget that just courting them costs time and treasure.

Fickle nature of celebrity. Fame is fickle. Few celebrities remain on the A-List for more than five or six years. Everybody knows who’s on the A-List, and competition for their endorsement is fierce. In most cases, the so-hot star this year is the subject of a “where are they now” profile on ET just a few years later. And once their star fades…assuming they remain loyal… what do you do with them?

Matching. Some celebrities available to you just may not be a match for your cause or campaign. At Children’s Miracle Network, sports celebrities came easy. But we found that a NFL hero in one market was a goat in another. Olympians have broader appeal, but only a handful are remembered a year after the Games are over. Of course there’s the usual variety of actors and singers, and television personalities. But if you’re trying to get publicity you may find that an entertainer closely associated with one TV network may get the short shrift from another.

Scandal. I have personal knowledge of a very well-known professional athlete who, after appearing at a charity event, required his volunteer driver (a female) to take him to a strip club and then wait for him. Yikes! Needless to say, he was never invited back.

By all means use celebrities if it makes sense for your campaign. But do so with your eyes open and looking out for trouble.

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