Celebrities have been featured in advertising campaigns for decades, but celebrity brand ambassadors are a fairly recent phenomenon. There’s no doubt that the power of a popular celebrity helps brands sell products and reach mass audiences. Brands such as Nike, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi, for example, have maximized profits and increased brand awareness with the help of Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, and LeBron James, to name only a few. Unfortunately for many brands, celebrities are people, too. Public meltdowns and questionable behavior follow celebrities like the paparazzi, and their public relations disasters reflect poorly on the brands they endorse.

 

NFL player Adrian Peterson has not had a great year in PR.

NFL player Adrian Peterson has not had a great year in PR.

We’ve all seen this bad behavior play out in the press. From cheating scandals to arrests to leaked videos featuring drug use and other examples or unruly behavior, celebrity ambassadors can’t seem to stay out of trouble. When the behavior is bad enough, brands are forced to drop their celebrity ambassadors to distance themselves from the scandals. Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, football heroes whose jerseys were worn by millions of fans across the United States, lost numerous sponsorships worth tens of millions of dollars.

 

UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones recently lost his Nike sponsorship after a press-conference brawl with fellow UFC fighter Daniel Cormier in September 2014. Jones’ Nike sponsorship was reportedly worth $10 million. How much money Nike lost is unknown. According to the Journal of Advertising, brands see a four-percent spike in revenue due to athlete endorsements, totaling an average of $10 million in annual sales. These numbers reveal why, despite the perpetual bad behavior of celebrities, brands continue to sign celebrity brand ambassadors. In some cases, brands even stand by their most lucrative ambassadors during waves of public scrutiny. In Jon Jones’ presser, Jones threatened to kill a man — Jones lost his Nike deal. Tiger Woods cheated on his wife — Woods kept his deal.

 

 

All celebrities, no matter how beloved or squeaky-clean, are susceptible to controversy. It’s not the nature of the business — it’s the nature of life lived under a lens. Companies that decide to use the power of celebrity to elevate their brands are taking a risk. But risk also reaps rewards. Choose your celebrity ambassadors carefully. Long after you’ve dropped the bad girls and replaced them with America’s sweethearts, the public will remember that you once chose the bad girls to represent your brand.

 

What effects do you think celebrity brand ambassadors have on the brands they represent? Let’s talk here, or find me on Twitter @nataliepetitto