My Celebrity Did What?
“The Lance debacle is illustrative of celebrity risks.”
Barry Bonds. Mark McGwire. Roger Clemens. Michael Vick. Tiger Woods. One day they are favorites of America, and the next they are disgraced. Their endorsements disintegrate faster than Usain Bolt runs the 100. They become butts of Jay Leno’s jokes. The latest, Lance Armstrong, is another casualty in the injecting for dollars mania. Lance thought he would become really famous and rich if he added some of his own blood back in before races to give him that certain je ne sais quoi.
Winning 7 global Tour de France races made him the global cover boy. Recovering from cancer made him a comeback story that America loves so much. The very name Lance Armstrong sounds like the name of a super hero. Of course we all know now he cheated his way to the titles.
The issue is what happens to all those companies that used Lance as their voice of products. Well, they drop him and sue him to break his lucrative endorsement deals. Does the stain carry over to the products that used him? Is it worth risking having a celebrity endorse a product when they are prone to do some stupid things? Is it worth it for products like prescription drugs that survive on trust?
In the drug world there have been a few issues with celebrities. Mickey Mantle ran afoul of the FDA by over-touting a drug. Dr. Jarvik, Lipitor endorser, got into trouble over his lack of a license to practice. Ty Pennington, spokesperson for Adderall, had some trouble with his drinking behavior. Celebrities can help a brand gain faster national attention but seem to be prone to be caught in embarrassing behavior.
Most celebrity endorsers do just fine handling the bubble world they live in daily. Perhaps it is best to sign them when their glory days are in the rear view mirror. They seem to be more level-headed as their careers are waning. Sally Field still is a star, but her maturity is evident these days, and was an excellent spokesperson for Boniva. Lauren Hutton had a dose of maturity at the end of her modeling days.
In most cases celebrities are probably not needed to boost drug sales. If the drug has a compelling point of difference, the use of a celebrity is not needed. On the other hand, a celebrity works well when they make people feel comfortable about an embarrassing condition. Bob Dole helped Viagra legitimize erectile dysfunction. They may also do very well being used for a later entry in a category. Mike Ditka helped Levitra gain recognition.
The rapid fall of a celebrity hero shows that use of the famous has extra risks. Their public behavior is rapidly outed in social media and can make an expensive campaign useless. They may run their mouth and say too much in the heavily regulated world of drug promotion. They may subsequently get sick and the drug they endorsed may be seen as ineffective. They could be very expensive and hard to handle. I remember using a very famous athlete at a trade show and he was rude and arrogant to our customers. Not exactly an ROI success that day.
The Lance debacle is illustrative of celebrity risks. This should not dissuade use of the famous but there has to be a legitimate and well-tested value of their use. For every good guy like Phil Mickelson there is a Tiger Woods. No brand manager wants to explain to the CEO why celebrity endorser X just said some outrageous comment or appeared in a sex tape. No one wants their spokesperson to be seen in a mug shot. For sneakers, sunglasses, and fast cars a little bad boy behavior may add to the brand panache. For prescription drugs, however, I’ll take more Regis Philbin than Bobby Brown.
Bob Ehrlich, Chairman
DTC Perspectives, Inc.