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TV endorsement a double-edged sword?

July 19, 2010
Image of a closing down sale despite Mary Queen of Shops

Product Failure - beware the celebrity endorsement; far better to provide services that people want - testimonials will come automatically

In the 1960s and 1970s, a common marketing phrase used to generate extra revenue was “as seen on TV”. Somehow, TV created credibility. I’ve seen it, therefore I believe it. But of course, most products seen on TV are there through product placement. The phrase should instead be: “as advertised on TV”.

Advertising and recommendation are two entirely different things. Recommendation is the verbal and visual equivalent of the customer testimonial. Advertising on the other hand is about a company paying for their product to be on TV.

A third – and more subtle – element is the “celebrity endorsement”. This combines advertising with a testimonial (albeit a testimonial gained via paying the celebrity to endorse the product). People like Judith Chalmers (holiday homes); Sue Barker (time share); Anthony Worrall Thompson (anything vaguely related to cooking).

A problem with endorsement is that it hijacks the brand of a “trusted” TV celebrity to convey credibility to the product or service. Why is this a problem? If the celebrity’s career suddenly nose-dives (O.J. Simpson; Tiger Woods; the England football team) then this has a knock-on effect on the products originally endorsed. No company wants to be associated with crime, marital infidelity or plain underperformance.

I was struck by a recent advertisement in a York shop front (see image) which had been on the TV programme “Mary Queen of Shops”. Proudly carrying the banner “as appeared on Mary Queen of Shops”, the shop has actually closed down. Bad for the shop and bad for Mary… So much for the celebrity endorsement.

Endorsement of any kind is a double-edged sword. Far better to receive genuine testimonials for these show real people who have benefited from real products and services. Big names from Accenture to Nike have been bitten by the downside of celebrity endorsement. Better to have people who really do use your products to get improved results – there is no better way to enhance your credibility in a difficult market.

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