Celebrities are people not brands

A piece in the New York Times: Tiger Woods and the Perils of Modern Celebrity highlights the woes befalling the golfer are nothing new. But maybe it is time to stop thinking of those in the public eye in the same way as corporate brands and remember they are people first and foremost.

This is especially important for those whose PR advisors have helped create an illusion of a personal brand that is not consistent with the individual behind the “image or trademark“. In the days of open online communications, it is proving harder to maintain such fictions – indeed, this only leads to rumours and the creation of counter brands. Just follow any Twitter stream to see how people love to challenge the “official” rhetoric with their own opinions and “facts” (they know because a friend of a friend said so).

Celebrity endorsement is an age old phenomenon where recommendations or testimonials from those who are known and admired help transfer this likeability to the item being recommended.

But today’s focus on celebrities forgets the human aspect at the heart of “source credibility” and sees instead only the monetary value – epitomised by the DBI Report:

an independent index that determines a celebrity’s ability to influence brand affinity and consumer purchase intent. Created from the brand perspective, the DBI provides brands, agencies and media properties with a systematic approach for quantifying and qualifying the use of celebrities in their communications platforms. By delivering unrivaled insights, the DBI serves as a celebrity guide for brand marketers, resulting in the strategic identification of individuals who will enhance brand messaging initiatives and maximize ROI.

On the face of it, the creation of celebrity brands is a winning strategy for the celebrity, their advisors, sponsors – and the public who buy into the mythology.

Surely we know that Cheryl Cole is an ordinary girl made famous through a television talent show, whose flawless beauty is made possible by expensive hair extensions that undermine the credibility of her £500,000 fee for endorsing L’Oreal shampoo?

The “shock” of Tiger Woods or any other celebrity fall from grace is because of a disconnect between the reality and the managed brand. Indeed, one could argue that the pressures of portraying a false brand image inevitably results in a behavioural disconnect.

Public relations advisors help create and maintain a myth which may not only be harmful for those who sign the Faustian pact. Consider how very young girls are being influenced by every “skinny shot” of their chosen celebrity. Or how bullying is reinforced when those with little talent are open to public and professional ridicule in the heats of television shows – let alone those who need to retain their celebrity status by humiliating themselves in the jungle or jumping through holes in walls.

As yet another “winner” sets out on the post X-Factor journey – watched by the UK’s largest annual television audience, is it impossible to remember that this is not the creation of a brand, but a fortunate person who may make some money or return to obscurity after a manufactured “career” of a Christmas number one?

I met Radio 2’s Chris Evans at a MIPAA lunch last week (where we presented him with the 2009 Chairman’s award for his enthusiasm for motoring and raising £1 million for the charity, Children in Need). Chris admits he previously “lost the plot“, but today he seems very relaxed and as he told when when talking about his young son: “Everyday with Noah is like Christmas”.

Of course, this family happiness becomes part of the Chris Evans brand, but it certainly seemed much more human than the way Tiger Woods seemed to have agreed to using his children and wife as part of his public image.

Surely the reality is much more credible and celebrities need PR advisors who remember their “client” is human and not those who are all too willing to spin an image?

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

3 thoughts on “Celebrities are people not brands”

  1. I live in the US and I am horrifed at how little thought is given to the fact that these people are human beings first and foremost. The whole celebrity culture in the US is about turning humans into brands with the most incredibly high expectations which elevates them to godlike status. The fall from grace for a God is steep. I am not in favor of anybody breaking their marriage vows but its none of my business. This is a culture where I have had somebody come up to me in a grocery store and ask me if I had ever had my screaming daughter evaluated. When I told them to mind their own damm business I was told that its no wonder my daughter was the way she was. (In this case a screaming toddler who could not get what she wanted) I often wonder what would happen if somebody did that in Tesco’s what would happen.

    The school of thought is that if celebrities put themselves out there they are fair game. Look at Sarah Palin an impossibly untrained inexperienced politican who has now garnered a huge following because she went the celebirty route. Tiger Woods is a golfer a brillant and talented golfer who has given much to the game. He is sick as it now turns out with a serious addiction. I hope they leave him alone and allow him to re-build his life and come back to us as the brillant golfer we know him as.

  2. Fionnd – thanks for your comment. I can’t believe someone making that comment – how rude. It reminds me though of a great advert where a child is being difficult in a supermarket and the mother throws herself on the ground in a tantrum. Of course, the child stops being naughty in shock. I cannot remember the brand (not a great advert for the product then!) or I’d find it on YouTube for you. If it comes to me – or anyone else can help…

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