May 29, 2009

What Marketers Can Learn From Celebrities

While inanimate brands may occasionally get into trouble, they’ve got nothing on the very human brands known as celebrities. From drug arrests to illicit canoodling, we can pretty much count on our famous friends to mess up in one way or another.

Yet we love them despite their errors. Well, most of them, anyway. And there’s a lesson in that love that many brands can learn from.

Celeb love has three things going for it:

  1. POPULARITY: Celebrities have fans who really like them and so are willing to forgive them the occasional slip-up. This is key: a popular celebrity is far more likely to be forgiven than an unpopular one. And the public can turn on you quickly if you’re not showing them some love. Brands too, can recover far more quickly from social media setbacks (Motrin Moms, Dominos) if we’re been mostly thinking good thoughts about them. Otherwise, it’s just seen as further proof that our dislike is justified. (Just like celebs.)
  2. CONFESSION: They’re willing to admit their mistakes. The tearful celeb promising not to abuse drugs/their spouse/their hotel room is so familiar as to become a cliché. But we love forgiveness: it’s in our DNA. And so long as the celeb seems sincere about their apology, we’ll give them a free pass. (Well, a couple of times anyway.) Brands too, need to be willing to admit their mistakes, apologize and move on. The public is far more forgiving than you realize. And everyone loves a reformed sinner.
  3. LOW EXPECTATIONS: We expect celebs to be less than perfect. We’re used to them messing up time and again and the line we hear over and over again is “it makes them more human.” Brands, unfortunately, aren’t human. So we don’t expect them to mess up. Their marketing campaigns, however, are a different story. We don’t expect those to be perfect and when they’re not, we appreciate it when brands acknowledge the mistake, proclaim how badly they feel about the error, promise to do better and get back on with it.

The most important lesson here though is “make sure they like you” because if they do, the public is willing to forgive a world of sins. That means paying attention to quality, customer service and the like so that your product is at least as popular as your average B-list celebrity. If you’ve got that going on, you’re far more likely to be forgiven any missteps and foibles.

Just be sure you’re ready for your close-up.