Styling celebrities as ambassadors is an attempt to position the tie-up as more authentic at a time when consumers have become more cynical about endorsements. "There's a greater authenticity that comes with having a celebrity influencing the business so that it's not just a face on the brand. ... Everyone knows what a brand endorsement is. You can pay a celebrity to say anything."
There can be a catch: Marketers must make sure their "ambassadors" are a genuine match and haven't previously shown loyalty to a rival brand.
In the wake of BlackBerry's recent announcement that Alicia Keys would serve as its creative director, critics pointed to her use of an iPhone days earlier to tweet. Beyonce has been criticized for partnering with a sugary soda brand while promoting first lady Michelle Obama's anti-obesity "Let's Move" effort. And when Justin Timberlake was tapped for Bud Light Platinum, pictures surfaced of him drinking Coors Light. (Bud Light Platinum smartly responded on Twitter: "Justin may have dated other beers but he's married to Platinum.")
Liquor giant Diageo has experienced the highs and lows of casting a brand's lot with a celeb. Sales of its Ciroc vodka have soared since the marketer made Sean "Diddy" Combs the brand manager, CMO and spokesman in 2007. But when Diageo teamed with singer/songwriter Pharrell Williams to launch a liqueur called "Qream" in 2011, the deal soured quickly, with Mr. Williams recently filing a lawsuit claiming Diageo didn't do enough to support the brand. Diageo disputes the allegation.
So what do real creatives think of celebs getting these titles? "Most is hype," said Pete Favat, chief creative officer at Havas-owned Arnold. "But no doubt some people become celebs because they are truly creative people, so why not experiment?"
That said, he added, "If brands are doing it for PR buzz, it's a stupid idea. ... No one cares who the creative director is as long as the work is great."
Contributing: E.J. Schultz