Take That Celebrity Endorsement Up a Notch

To Convince Skeptical Consumers, Relationship Must Run Deep

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Carol Watson Carol Watson
I just caught the new Lincoln Navigator ad featuring Common. Called "Common," it aired on Nov. 25 during the NFL Sunday Night Football broadcast on NBC. The commercial, the first spot in a larger campaign created by Uniworld, "spotlights the people, places and experiences that shaped his life in his hometown of Chicago. It segues to his present-day life as an enterprising, multitalented individual, continuing to reach higher, yet still deeply rooted in his community."

What sets this partnership apart from the many urban music celebrity endorsements that have come before (e.g. Funkmaster Flex and Mos Def have done auto endorsements) is that Common's music will be licensed for use in ad spots on TV and the web. There will also be tie-ins with his books, line of hats and his live tour. Lincoln has also agreed to support Common's nonprofit organization, the Common Ground Foundation and will be sponsoring the Start the Show n' Bowl fundraising event in February of 2008. While I am admittedly a big Common fan, I was struck by how well the company has completely integrated Common's brand image. Lincoln has connected the elements in Common's life that have helped pave his way to the Lincoln brand. This allows his consumers to identify with his passions and get to know him better as his success and momentum grows and continues to cross over to the general market.

In contrast, the Mary J. Blige ads that ran for much of the past year (from Campbell-Ewald and Translation) do not strike the same chord. We all love Mary and this is not a criticism of the ad. Rather, it was a missed marketing opportunity in the overused world of celebrity endorsements. Fans and consumers appreciate and support Mary's journey and struggles to get to where she is now.

It seemed that the company thought using a couple of her well-known songs would be enough to connect to the Chevy Tahoe brand. The print work felt like they just stuck her in the ads with her husband and kids to give it a wholesome family look (print version). The ads lack any complexity and context and don't leave you with a stronger connection to Mary or why you should care what she drives and how that brand speaks to you as a person and potential consumer. The concept falls into the celebrity-endorsement cliché category. If anything, it looks like little more than simply a big paycheck to the celebrity.

Using celebrity endorsers, particularly those gaining their fame from music, has always been popular, and the growing trend in using hip-hop artists to influence and connect with influential African-American consumers while taking advantage of these artists' cross-over appeal and ability to influence trends has been well documented. Talent buying is easy (albeit expensive) but marketers can't just slot in celebrity talent and expect long-term or short-term sales results. Consumers have become too sophisticated and extremely suspicious. To really leverage such opportunities, artists and brands must establish a relationship beyond simple concerts and endorsements; they have to add to the mix the feeling that when the show is over, the celebrity actually appreciates the brand. As Lincoln's tagline states, "True power is wielded quietly."
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