HP, Intel & Nissan – Corporate Celebrity Endorsements

Hewlett Packard (HP), Intel and Nissan are all using celebrity endorsements.  In fact, most major corporations have used celebrities to promote their products.  Why, then, have I mentioned these three companies?  HP Intel and Nissan are unique in that they have started using celebrity endorsements not to promote a specific product, but to improve corporate branding.  Corporate branding is simply creating a strong identity for the organization behind the products. This adds an extra layer of differentiation in order to gain a competitive advantage.  What I find particularly interesting about HP, Intel and Nissan is that they have taken celebrity endorsements to a new level.

They haven’t just made adverts with celebrities, they have gone as far as to ’employ’ them…

Here are the latest appointments to the boards of HP, Intel and Nissan:

  • Jay-Z has joined HP as ‘CEO of Hip-Hop’
  • Will.i.am has landed at job at Intel as ‘Director of Creative Innovation’
  • Usain Bolt has gone from Olympic gold medalist to a ‘Director of Excitement’ at Nissan

These alleged ‘jobs’ are designed to make consumers associate the characteristics of each celebrity with the corporation.  Hence, Nissan‘s selection of Usain Bolt suggests that they would like to be perceived as an exciting company which produces fast cars.

But I am really skeptical of these marketing campaigns for three reasons:
1. Not Cost-Effective – Instead of paying vast sums of money on a celebrity to pretend to work for a company, there are much better ways to develop a strong corporate brand.  For instance, Proctor and Gamble have sponsored Olympic games and produced powerful advertising to boost their corporate image.

2.  Celebrities Lack the Right Skills – Although they may be able to promote the corporation to their fan-base, they are very unlikely to make good employees.  As such, do not expect Will.i.am to actually deliver creative innovations that improves Intel computer chips.  In fact, based on the below video, asking him to explain why he wants to work for Intel appears to be too much to ask for:

3. Little Impact on Customers – For the most part, celebrity endorsements are effective are generating sales of specific products.  This is because consumers see a direct link between the celebrity and the product.  Therefore, classical conditioning happens faster and consumers are more likely to purchase the product if they like/trust the endorser.  But when you swap the product for a corporation, you effectively make the call-to-action less clear.  For example a consumer sees that Jay-Z is CEO of hip-hop for HP, is this supposed to make the consumer aspire to work for HP or buy their products?  If the former, what products are they supposed to buy?

This is an important issue because a celebrity endorser is unlikely to have relevance for every product a firm sells.  Does Jay-Z’s music talent make owning a HP printer cool?  Does Usain Bolt make Nissan Micras exciting? It may work for laptops and sports cars, but not printers or family cars.   Therefore, it is much more likely that a return on investment could be achieved by using a celebrity endorser at a product-level, rather than a corporate-level.

Ultimately, I do think developing a strong corporate brand is a really important marketing strategy.  But using celebrity endorsements to achieve this is a poor tactical decision.

© Josh Blatchford, author of Manifested Marketing 09/11/2013

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