Corporations are willing to pay substantial amounts of money to prominent
personalities so that consumers will relate the brand with their favorite star,
and thus will be more likely to buy the product. The buying public imparts
credibility to the celebrity because of his or her charisma as well as the
credibility that comes with prominence in the media. The power of someone's
personality also entails risks for the brand with which they are associated,
because any controversial behavior may reflect badly on the product. This has
become an especially frequent problem in recent times.
Whoopi Goldberg, for example, lost her Slim Fast contract due to her abrasive
remarks regarding the President. The people at Slim Fast did not want their
brand associated with a personality embroiled in controversy, who was likely to
upset people by insulting a respected figure. In 1989, Pepsi dropped Madonna
for her "sacrilegious" "Like a Prayer" video. McDonald's allowed Kobe Bryant's
contract with them to lapse after a woman accused him of rape. After allegedly
entering a special treatment program for anorexia, Mary-Kate Olsen vanished
from the "Got Milk?" campaign. Hip-hop star Ludacris became another Pepsi
casualty when executives heard Bill O'Reilly remark upon the obscenity of the
rapper's lyrics, and decided he wasn't beneficial for their soda's reputation.
Sometimes celebrities act indignant when they lose an endorsement due to
remarks they made or other forms of expression in which they indulged, as if
their freedom of speech has been violated. Whoopi Goldberg felt she was being
"punished" for speaking freely. The First Amendment says nothing about
having an inherent right to multi-million dollar deals, just that the State cannot
prosecute you for the content of your expression. On the other hand, if the
State were to dictate Slim Fast's ad campaign by forcing them to retain
Goldberg, that would be a violation of Slim Fast's rights.
For many years, celebrities like Whoopi have made enviable amounts of money
from endorsements, but now that they are getting axed so frequently, they
may need to take caution if they want to keep this source of revenue.
Celebrities are not so irreplaceable and unique. Companies fed up with
prominent scandals can easily resort to lesser-known actors who have not
accumulated a reputation, bad or otherwise. Advertisers can even employ
animated or animal mascots, who have absolutely no independent life of their
own, and thus will not ever bring shame upon the company name. Thus,
household names who lose their reputation may also lose their big advertising
money to, let's say, Tony the Tiger. This phenomenon brings to mind what
Cassius said in Shakespeare's Othello, "O, I have lost my reputation!... and what
remains is bestial."
Superstars have to make a choice when it comes to endorsements. They have
to realize that companies have reasons for keeping them, and for getting rid of
them. If celebrities want to do as they please, they cannot expect companies to
put up with everything they do and keep on paying them. Eminem lives by his
own rules, and companies never hire him for endorsements; but he doesn't
seem to care. Those who care about the exposure and money associated with
endorsement deals must cultivate a good reputation, maintaining healthy,
controversy-free public personas. Otherwise, we will keep seeing more and
more stars disappearing from the ad campaigns in which we have become
accustomed to seeing them.
Michael Levine is the founder of the prominent public relations firm Levine
Communications Office, based in Los Angeles. He is the author of Guerrilla PR,
7 Life Lessons from Noah's Ark: How to Survive a Flood in Your Own Life.
GuerrillaPR.net is a resource for people that want to get famous in the media,
without going broke. http://GuerrillaPR.net