With big bucks in the offing, performers and personalities are all too often tempted by advertisers, but is signing on with a brand selling out? In a feature that first appeared in Encore, Megan Reynolds investigates.
When Ashton Agar made his cricketing debut in the first Ashes Test earlier this month, he got more than the hearts of sporting fans and teenage girls beating.
Advertisers across the country would have been chomping at the bit at the sight of his fresh new face. At just 19 years old, Agar’s sensational 98-run debut shot him on to the front page of just about every Australian newspaper. With his clean cut looks and yet untarnished reputation, he is virtually a blank canvas for brands to project themselves on.
However, in a bold move, Agar has said no to potentially millions of dollars in sponsorship deals choosing instead to focus on the game.
Once upon a time actors, musicians and sports stars saw signing with brands and fronting commercials as ‘selling out’. But now it seems celebrity endorsements are par for the course. And with brands looking at more subtle integration opportunities, the lines are becoming blurred even further, while performers scramble to find other revenue streams in the face of changing business models across the entertainment and music industries.
“It used to be that being involved in advertising was selling out. Now it’s the opposite,” legendary rock musician Lou Reed told the Cannes International Festival of Creativity in June this year.
It’s a sentiment that would be all too familiar for singer Emily Lubitz of Melbourne indie band TinPan Orange, who sang the eternally catchy tune behind the Metro Trains Dumb Ways to Die campaign.
“I don’t usually do advertising work,” she told youth music station Triple J earlier in the year after the soon-to-be heavily awarded campaign broke. “But Ollie [McGill of The Cat Empire] and I are old friends. He called and said he had some session work. We’ve done creative stuff together in the past.”
“I didn’t particularly want to put my name to it. Advertising is not what I sing about usually. But when the video went viral, I thought that if this can help people get behind the other work I’ve done, then why not.”
While you wouldn’t necessarily call Lubitz a sell out, British rock band Status Quo fall squarely in the camp after reworking their back catalogue of 1970s hits for Coles supermarkets, even going so far as changing their lyrics. Hot on their heels is UK boy band One Direction who recently teamed up with the supermarket chain to sell several thousand tickets for local concerts. Singer-songwriter Pete Murray ironically noted he never planned for his songs to play on commercial radio, a comment he made last month at the launch of the Telstra Road to Discovery music contest for which he is the ambassador. Even performers with serious indie cred such as Silverchair’s Daniel Johns can be lured by the adland dollar – Johns wrote the song Atlas for a short-lived Qantas campaign last year.
ART OR COMMERCE?
According to the performers Encore spoke to, far from making them a sell out, being the face of a brand or a campaign can actually be a creatively stimulating process.
Radio presenter Tim ‘Rosso’ Ross, who presents the drive show for Melbourne and Sydney’s MixFM, says some of his best creative work has come out of advertising deals.
The quirky TV commercials he starred in as a geek, a hipster and a tradie for car insurance company NRMA were written and directed by Toby Morris who has since become an important creative collaborator for the comedian and radio performer. “He’s 24, brilliant, and has got such great energy and a different way of looking at things than a lot of people my age, or a bit younger, and I find it really inspiring,” Ross told Encore. After working together on the series of spots, Morris has gone on to film Ross’ live show in Tasmania and has worked with him on a short film about his stand-up show Man about the House. “I like new projects and I like working with people so when you try new things, it opens up another world to you and you make new friends. I have been able to work with people I never would have met,” says Ross.
Ross clearly isn’t afraid of the advertising dollar. He has strapped on a fat suit to pull pints in classic Aussie pubs for a Carlton Draught campaign, and flew to Alice Springs with Tiger Airways to broadcast his show for a week. “That’s incredible coverage for brands. I still see people talking about funny things that happened,” he says. “What you do on the radio [with brands] is more creative and it’s effective. It’s about finding solutions and making sure our clients get the results they want from their spend, and I like finding brand solutions. It’s a lot of fun.” Working with brands is integral to today’s industry, Ross says. “I see it as part of my job.”
On the other end of brand ambassadorships is George Moskos, managing director of Whole Brands. Moskos has worked with high-profile personalities such as Miranda Kerr and co-founded her KORA Organics range of beauty products. Recently he worked with American reality star Whitney Port, who came to Australia last week for the launch of a Magnum ice cream pop-up store in Sydney.
“The key is understanding the person you’re working with, their beliefs and philosophies, and making sure that whatever it is that they’re promoting is authentic; it’s an extension of who they are and what they believe in,” Moskos says. “There’s nothing wrong with endorsement deals as long as you’re matching the right person with the right product.”
So is it selling out? “I don’t think it’s selling out,” Moskos says. “Selling out is when you’re promoting something you don’t believe in or have any relationship with. This is the total opposite. We try to engage them so there’s a lot of depth to that space and it’s something they can have an emotional attachment to as well.”
THE FACE OF THE BRAND
When The Voice judge Joel Madden and his brother Benji of pop-punk band Good Charlotte endorsed fast food chain KFC in the “Good Times” campaign launched in November last year, the fact they had been high profile advocates of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) struck a chord of inauthenticity. Madden now denies his previous vegetarian proclamations, however he can’t erase reports of Good Charlotte’s appearances at PETA awards shows or the track they recorded for a PETA compilation CD.
Consumer marketing and corporate communications consultant Jackie Crossman of Crossman Communications says brands should research a celebrity’s background rigorously to try to avoid such mishaps, however, there are risks on the celebrity’s side as well.
“Celebrities can be concerned about how good the brand is. Do they want to be associated with that brand? Does that brand also meet their values, are they an upstanding organisation? Are they going to do the right thing by them, and then finally, can they pay?” says Crossman.
And pay is a big factor in celebrity endorsement, with big brands willing to fork out megabucks to secure a personality. Nicole Kidman reportedly earns a cool $1.5m to $2m for a day’s commercial work in the Australian market, and her three-year contract with Swisse vitamins is believed to be valued at several million dollars which includes appearing in US commercials. She also earned a reported $12m for her 2003 Moulin Rouge themed ad for Chanel No.5 and has just signed another deal with shoe designer Jimmy Choo. Among the most notoriously expensive celebrity endorsements are Beyonce’s estimated US$50m endorsement of Pepsi, Tiger Woods’ US$100m five-year contract with Nike signed in 2001, and Brad Pitt’s reported US$7m deal to be the first male face of Chanel No.5.
However, Crossman says: “I don’t believe it’s always about the money, you have to have the right fit. If the fit’s not there, it’s not going to work for either party.”
Ross says his choices of brands to endorse were made on a case by case basis, and his work with Carlton Draught was easy, because it’s a beer he chooses to drink and he liked the campaign, so it’s work he can be proud of. “If the fit’s right it’s always good, as long as we do it really well, and I have had some great experiences. I’m currently doing great stuff with brands,” he says.
Nine presenter Sonia Kruger is currently getting around town in a Porsche in exchange for writing for the car brands’ online magazine Woman with Drive.
“I mean, who wouldn’t want to drive a Porsche? It’s hard to find an argument against that one,” she says.
Kruger is contracted to write at least one article per month for the website, and share stories on social media with her 53,000 Twitter followers.
“I don’t think it is selling out as long as you’re selective and as long as you do really believe in the brand that you’re representing,” she says.
Kruger will have to return the car at the end of her contract. “As long as you are not trying to disguise segments on your program or anything like that – which we certainly don’t do – and you’re very upfront and clear so that everybody is well aware, I think it’s okay,” she told Encore.
Kruger has also been a long-term ambassador for Swisse vitamins who secured Kidman as global brand ambassador and brought American daytime television superstar Ellen DeGeneres to Australia earlier this year. The brand says it chooses its celebrity partnerships very carefully.
“Like our suite of fantastic partnerships, all ambassadors complement the brand attributes and personality of Swisse,” a Swisse spokesman said. “We find there will be a greater connection with the ad if we make it relevant to the audience.”
Jack Lamacraft, head of PR and events at M&C Saatchi sport and entertainment, who work with many brand ambassadorships, says that in the cluttered celebrity landscape campaigns need to do more than just slap a face on a brand.
“You’ve got to think creatively to generate some content around it and get some cut through and engagement because it’s a standard marketing tool now. A lot of brands are looking at people who actually have a synergy or a connection to their brand, who share the brand values or stand for what they believe in,” he says.
As for Ashton Agar, Lamacraft says the opportunities are boundless if he changes his mind about brand endorsement. “When a brand gets involved and really backs them from an early stage, the marketing dollars can really take that celebrity to the next level,” Lamacraft says, citing the example of Michael Jordan, who shot to super-stardom when Nike created a range around his name.
“Agar’s kind of a blank canvas because he’s got no associations with other brands. No-one really knows his back story. He doesn’t come with any baggage. So there’s an opportunity there for a brand to really almost tell his story and own him.”
But for now, at least, Agar is a free man. The millions of dollars, and the associated moral decisions around selling out, will have to wait.
This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit encore.com.au for a preview of the app or click below to download.