Brands Fall For The Hype: Celebrity Creative Directors Don’t Matter. Here’s Why

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February 15, 2013 ‐ By C. Cleveland
Will.i.am and Johan Jervoe, VP of sales and marketing at Intel. Photo by Jon Furniss/Invision for Intel/AP Images

Will.i.am and Johan Jervoe, VP of sales and marketing at Intel. Photo by Jon Furniss/Invision for Intel/AP Images

BlackBerry continues to spiral into the abyss of electronics past. Desperate to escape the Narnia of cassette tapes and floppy disks that exists in the back of our closets, the wireless devices company turned to one woman… Alicia Keys? News of the pop singer’s new gig as creative director of the company formerly know as RIM was met with head scratches and punchlines.

It’s not that we don’t want to see Alicia be great, despite her refusal to let “Girl on Fire” die. This announcement just doesn’t seem as special, or make as much sense, as the company’s press release would like us to believe.

Brands’ work with celebrities used to be simpler. They cut the check; the famous person holds their product and speaks their praises. Now brands don’t just want a campaign, they want to give the celeb an office too. Brand partnerships are all the rage. Celebs are getting titles business school graduates would kill for like “chief creative officer” and “chief innovator.”

How Did We Get Here?

Ad Age has an idea of why companies are so keen to jump on a trend that’s already feeling overdone:

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.

Some companies get it right. Budweiser’s partnership with Jay-Z seemed odd at first, but who better to breathe new life into the brand’s then-defunct music festival than the reigning king of mainstream hip hop? P. Diddy’s work with Ciroc was a more obvious pairing. His playboy lifestyle legitimized the liquor brand.

When Right Goes Wrong

How can music producer Will.i.am really innovate in the multinational semiconductor chip market for Intel? Lady Gaga is stylish, but Polaroid may have benefited more from working with someone who creates amazing images rather than inspires them. And what about the king of this trend, Key’s husband Swizz Beatz? What have Monster, Lotus, Reebok, and Mega-Upload gained from his involvement?

If companies are going to spend the money to hire celebrities, they should treat them like any other applicant and make sure they possess relevant experience that adds value to the brand. Customers are savvy enough to see the motives behind these partnerships. Just like a desperate girl in the club, businesses resorting to shallow tactics in their thirst for the limelight will just turn people off.

Hype should be the side effect of your decisions, not the goal. Providing a genuinely valuable service or product is still the key success. No one cares who the creative director is as long as the product’s good. If the product’s good, and the creative director happens to be a pop culture icon, well that’s hype worth believing in.

C. Cleveland is a freelance writer and content strategist in New York City, perfecting living the fierce life at The Red Read. She is at your service on Twitter (@CleveInTheCity) and Facebook (/MyReadIsRed). 

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