Last year, Forbes run an article titled “Save Your Money: Celebrity Endorsements Not Worth The Cost”. But this is hardly novel; there’s been a solid number of research that conclude that it’s not worth paying a fortune to get celebrities to represent your brand. Ads with celebrities do not influence purchase behavior any better than ads with non-celebrities. Besides the ridiculous financial cost of plastering a celebrity over your brand, it becomes a marriage where their shit, and often there’s shit going on with them, becomes your shit, as a brand. From Tiger Woods, to Oscar Pistorious to Lance Armstrong, to Paula Deen, there have been major embarrassments for brands because the “face” of the brands messed up. Yet, brands continue to splash millions on celebrities to represent them. Why? It’s a game of attention.
Some research suggests that the average consumer living in the city is exposed to as many as 5000 brands and ads in a single day. Incredulous! Of course, in my “donkomi” Ghana, this would be significantly less. It still does not defy the incredible battle for the consumer’s attention, and this is where celebrity endorsements bring home the goods. Celebrities are recognizable, often good looking faces, and by the magic of the brains, we are more likely to recognize and memorize ads fronted by a recognizable face than one with an unfamiliar face. So even though, consumers may claim in a research that they are not influenced by celebrities in their purchase decisions, they sure are more likely to be aware of brands endorsed by celebrities, than those by non-celebrities. It’s just the brain’s way of working, and I’m certain when internalized, it does in deed influence purchase behavior. We had known and been saying it long before Taylor Swift sang “Haters gonna Hate Hate Hate” and now somehow we cite her when we have to say it as if she came up with it. That’s the power of a celebrity in creating awareness. It’s why brands splash the cash on them.
Now if you think deeply on it, then a brand is in its own right a celebrity, just as a celebrity is a brand in his or her own right. By every common sense then, since the brand is the one paying the millions, they should get a celebrity who is more popular than the brand to truly get their money’s worth. Otherwise it will be double jeopardy to pay ridiculous amounts of money to someone, only for the person to get more famous by their association with your brand. I call this endorsement parasitism—a situation where an endorsement favours one party at the cost of the other. Ideally the relationship should bring mutual appeal and returns for the brand and the celebrity, or best, synergy, such that their relationship brings more benefits for them both than they would achieve individually otherwise.
Often when I give such tutorials, it is to avid undergraduate marketing students, and I’m paid some good dollars for it. But Melcom has given me another compelling reason to put my fat lips into their affair again, so I have come for them; their affairs with “celebrities” keeps pissing on my parade. Somebody has to tell them something so I figured why not insignificant me! They got Asamoah Gyan out, God knows they had to, what pernicious sin that endorsement deal was, and got themselves a certain Victoria Michaels. Come on, Melcom, are you turning this into one of your electronic products!?
For many of you reading this, I have just made Victoria Michael popular; this is the first time you are hearing the name. Who is she? Apparently she is some award-winning model. Don’t ask me the award else I will remind you I’m an award-winning talking bird. Victoria is a pretty face, but not any prettier than my own Yaa Boatemaa. She’s talked about her passion for the brand and reminisced on how she used to shop at Melcom for school when she was in High school. Fair enough, but does this make Victoria any more worth the deal than the many other pretty faces, who given what she is getting, can also find in their long locked memory their passion and memory of shopping at Melcom?
I’m probably just hating, or just being cynical, or being a typical pull-her-down Ghanaian, or maybe I’m making perfect sense if I say that this is a parasitic endorsement; gooder for Victoria, badder for Melcom. If celebrity endorsement is about attention, then choosing a brand ambassador whom many Ghanaians, especially Melcom’s target market do not know, is like dancing with yourself: you prove nothing. Yes, Victoria is a pretty face, well spoken, but so are many other “ordinary” people who will be willing to accept a fraction of whatever Melcom is paying Victoria to do the job. Melcom is going to make Victoria more popular than she could have done without them, and to think that they are paying her for it. Sigh!
Do Melcom know their market? I have always maintained that Melcom are doing some great stuff with their brand, but I think they also need to remind themselves which segment of the market they are serving, and what the consumers in that segment desire and aspire to. Last time, Melcom was attempting to cry a big man’s cry, tickling themselves and laughing at the idea everyone would buy their gibberish of Asamoah Gyan shopping at Melcom. Thankfully, they came down to earth, but now they want to sink into expensively playing “look inside and find your lover” with a yet to be really popular pretty face. Ayoo.
I had a dream. In my dream, Kwame Sefa-Kayi and Kwame Djokoto were the faces of Melcom. The former spoke for Melcom Plus, and the latter spoke for regular Melcom. Occasionally, they would run into each other at various Melcom shops and make noise in some funny exchanges, using repeated catch phrases like “Eih Kwame Melcom, we meet again”. If it’s being positioned as the place where Ghana shops, then choosing such celebrities who are well associated with the people, who typify your aspirational segment may work better for Melcom. In any case, encouraging customization of the shop space using typical Ghanaian names like “Kwame Melcom”, “Adwoa Melcom,” assuming they use Adwoa Smart for instance would increase affinity and personalization, and that works magic. That’s the reason why even an undifferentiated brand like Coke put people’s names on their bottles. Just offering my two cents, but who am I? I’m only a dreamer!
If I am to sober up and be less tentative, then the prescient question is do Melcom really need a celebrity to front their brand? Not really! I think Melcom will do better investing more in improving their shop floor experience, broadening and deepening their loyalty and shopper rewards to induce a more bottom-up brand affinity. They stand to reap more if they invested in their customer service people to put on a smile and be nice, than to invest in the smile of a pretty face on a billboard whom consumers may never encounter in their lives. Melcom has enough brand awareness, what they need is brand love, and for that, superior customer service is the key, not fancy celebrity endorsements.
It is said that doing the right thing is not the same as doing the thing right. Melcom’s affair with celebrities is not being done right, and I have shared my dream on how to do it right. But the right thing for Melcom to do is to invest in customer service and shopper experience. If we enjoy a trip to Melcom, we’ll return, with or without some celebrity telling us we should. If we find Melcom no better than the lanes at Tudu, then even if Oprah told us to shop at Melcom, we will remain in dead goat mode. Melcom has only one celebrity they need to pay some serious attention to: the ordinary Ghanaian.