The rise of celebrity has led to an increased offering of licensed celebrity products hitting shelves. And a snapshot at any one time is likely to show the good, the bad and the ugly.
The vast majority of celebrities or personalities, whether alive or dead, can be linked with at least one licensed product. Of course there are a select few who shy away from the limelight, but most stars, regardless of what ‘list’ they fall into, have dabbled with licensing with varying degrees of success.
The obvious for any model, footballer, singer, reality TV star or actor, and often a springboard for a full product range, is a licensed fragrance. Some are met with a more positive reception, like the DVB fragrances from Victoria and David Beckham and Sex and The City’s Sarah Jessica Parker’s Covet and Lovely, than others, like BB8’s Chanelle Hayes and her Mwah scent or Kerry Katona’s aptly named Outrageous offering.
Other staples are the fitness videos, best done by those like Davina McCall, Elle McPherson and Cindy Crawford and perhaps less successfully by the likes of ex-Eastender Natalie Cassidy, current Queen Vic landlady Barbara Windsor and BB6 winner Anthony Hutton’s 70s Disco Workout.
But what determines whether such a product is a hit with consumers or not? There is, of course, an element of current trends and the cool factor involved, as well as the current public and media perception of the celebrity in question and whether the product/personality link is a credible one.
If a celebrity has a specific skill they are able to utilise when developing product, they are often regarded as a more credible source. For example, many of the new breed of celebrity chefs, and indeed the more established ones, have successfully introduced food and drink products, kitchenware and homeware.
This is something Jamie Oliver has triumphed with through his firm, Fresh Retail Ventures. Guy Mottershead, executive director of FRV comments: “I think that where Jamie is concerned, the public here and internationally trust him to come up with delicious food and kitchen kit which inspires them to cook better.
“Across the board, from speed peelers to frying pans to tableware, we’ve always been careful to repay that trust with quality at an affordable price.”
This experience has been mirrored by David Reeder, VP of Greenlight licensing, with Disney’s Baby Einstein range: “Einstein’s name and likeness are synonymous with so many high level and aspirational adjectives – invention, inspiration, innovation, and genius – to name but a few.
“So aligning those sorts of adjectives against a product taps into every parents hopes and dreams for their children.”
Reeder continues: “In short, the association between a brand and celebrity has to make sense to consumers.”
Some licensing programmes work by more of an association, than a direct link, but again, the association needs to be clear to the audience. This can be clearly seen in the case of the George Foreman range of grilling machines.
Dinos Vassiloulis, product manager of Salton Europe, licensee for the grills explains: “The licence works because of the close connection between sporting performance (healthy living) and healthy eating.
“In 1994, George Foreman became the oldest ever heavyweight boxing champion of the world following his comeback at the age of 45. He attributed this remarkable achievement to his healthy lifestyle and particularly healthy eating.
“Hence the connection between a sporting legend and a product that helps you eat more healthily was born.”
Also key to a lucrative celebrity programme is the use of a recognisable personality. This is sometimes a factor in the longevity of a product as well. It’s often dead celebs, or delebs, which hit this mark, with something of an iconic status.
Vicky O’Malley, UK managing director of CPLG, explains: “For uber-celebrity brands such as Elvis, many factors combine. There’s such enduring appeal and fascination with Elvis as a man, an artist and a style icon.
“A powerful visual identity and so many instantly recognisable applications of photos, icons and artwork make a wonderful basis for licensees’ programmes. The strength at the heart of the Elvis brand is supported by a fantastic amount of ongoing activity around the brand, worldwide and across all media.”
Marketing is also key when creating a hit product or range. Reeder explains Greenlight’s unique approach:
“When taking on a new personality, our first step is to immerse our internal and external sales organisation in that deleb from all angles – high level relational adjectives that might inspire us to approach a brand proactively, to simple things like finding out what sort of watch the personality wore or what car they drove.
“This immersion sets the foundation for how and to whom we target our marketing. We then consider ideal relationships and proactively approach prospective brands and licensing partners to pitch ideas in relation to the personality by providing research, consumer insights and other supporting information.”
For others, a more traditional approach has worked well. Vassiloulis says: “In the UK, we have invested in extensive TV advertising since the George Foreman grill was launched here in 2001.
“Because of the unique nature of the product, demonstration has also been key in highlighting the benefits to consumers. George Foreman grills also maintain a high profile presence in press, online as well as in store.”
Meanwhile, there are some celebrities who need little or no marketing as the news about them generates itself.
O’Malley explains: “EPE’s own outstanding marketing efforts are complimented by a huge amount of independently-driven activity from fans and the media. This ranges from coverage of the celebrations at Graceland for Elvis week each year to reference to Elvis in the movies on TV and in the papers.
“Every day we see or hear reference to Elvis in our daily lives. There really isn’t any other celebrity brand like it.”
So with all of the key factors in and the promotion set in motion, what are the potential pitfalls and difficulties of working with celebrities?
Reeder comments: “The celebrity themselves has to understand and appreciate the obligation they are undertaking when a brand selects them to represent their product. This means flexibility from the celebrity in accommodating last minute requests and sometimes changes to the original plan.
“Also celebrities need to understand that while under a contract, even outside the boundaries of the advert, they still have an obligation to compose themselves in a manner that will not bring embarrassment or disgrace to the brand.”
Even when working with names that are no longer with us, there are potential difficulties to overcome, as O’Malley comments: “When dealing with real people, things aren’t as straightforward to control as with an animated character.
“Celebs and/or the companies that manage their estates or IP have approval rights and, understandably, a strong personal opinion over how their name and likeness should be used.”
If the problems are overcome, however, a licensing programme can be a lucrative and effective string to add to a celebrity’s bow and a means of easing the workload while still retaining control.
Mottershead comments: “By moving to a licensing model, it frees up Fresh Retail to concentrate on developing new products and new markets while our licensees work on existing product manufacture and distribution.”
While many celebrities may launch products that don’t work or ‘flop’, there is still plenty of untapped potential in the market. Reeder muses about a ‘dream celebrity brand’: “For me it would be about getting the ungettable, so celebrities who rarely, if ever, endorse brands.
“Someone like Bruce Springsteen for example endorsing any working class brand, be it beer, jeans or automotive. Or perhaps a female celebrity such as Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren, both of whom have an intellectual/liberal minded appeal that could speak very well to the would-be consumer for brands like Volvo, Toyota Prius or Evian Water.”