November 13, 2009 3:55 pm

Celebrities: Different sort of endorsement

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Time was when a clearly signed endorsement alongside a glamorous image of a well-known film or sporting star was sufficient to satisfy perceived brand promotional needs. But not any more.

Take Omega, one of the leading employers of “celebs”, whatever their fields of fame. Buzz Aldrin was on the moon in July 1969, with an Omega Speedmaster somewhere on his wrist. Forty years on, he is seen in the prints with a magnifying loupe on his forehead, promoting the maker’s Co-Axial chronometer movement, which is illustrated by itself, with no complete watch in sight. “It’s not rocket science, but it’s close,” run the opening words.

Cindy Crawford – “the beauty is in the detail” – and Nicole Kidman –“how can beauty perform so well?” – are also in the campaign, complete with loupes for examining the same movement. Their day jobs are nowhere in sight.

Omega loupes are also adorning the features of Michael Schumacher – “faster isn’t always better”– and George Clooney –“it runs in the family”: he was given a Speedmaster soon after the moon landing. Stephen Urquhart, chief executive of Omega, explains the philosophy behind his company’s wide use of ambassadors.

“Essentially, they bring a human face to the brand. We choose ambassadors who share, and effectively communicate, Omega’s key values: credibility, honesty, substance and a pioneering spirit,” he says. “While they come from diverse professional backgrounds, they all have a record of extraordinary achievement. Our ambassadors also tend to have distinguished themselves not only in their careers but in their social engagements.”

Less famous at present is Gustavo Dudamel. He is music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and an “electrifying conductor”, proclaim Rolex ads. He possesses “a passion for his art that will be felt forever”. The fine-looking young man will also possess forever the Oyster Perpetual Datejust on his left wrist, and is the latest of a long line of artistic talents promoted by Rolex.

The company rather cleverly does not call them ambassadors. They are “testimonees”, and Rolex sponsors them in different ways in diverse fields such as the arts, equestrianism, golf, motor sport, skiing, tennis and yachting.

Almost every televised golf tee boasts a Rolex, and driving off is a bagful of contemporary stars such as Luke Donald, Retief Goosen, Trevor Immelman, Martin Kaymer, Phil Mickelson, Lorena Ochoa, Adam Scott and Annika Sorenstam. And Rolex thinks long term, keeping well in touch with golden oldies such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player for big occasions.

Chopard goes for different kinds of stars. Its big promotional event of the year is the Cannes Film Festival, and is orchestrated by Caroline Fawaz-Gruosi, co-president of the family-owned company, and quite a star herself. For the festival she installs more than 100 staff in the Carlton Hotel to manage film stars wearing Chopard watches and jewellery, and also the prestigious Palme d’Or ceremony, the award she redesigned 11 years ago.

Chopard is also a great supporter of the Elton John Aids Foundation, the José Carreras Foundation and Prince Charles’s Trust, in handsome contrast to the glitzy scenes in the south of France. They are successful living endorsements, and their value more than covers the cost of those 100 staff in that very swish hotel.

Just along the road lies romantic Monaco, which annually hosts the most glamorous Formula I Grand Prix of them all. TAG Heuer’s association with FI racing goes back a long way, enjoying close links with all-time famous drivers and producing successful watch ranges such as Carrera and Monza.

The Monaco wristwatch has been special to TAG Heuer and to collectors since its launch in 1969, and its appearance on the wrist of Steve McQueen in the 1970 film, Le Mans. The revolutionary new MonacoV4, just launched in a limited edition, is a further manifestation of a passion of Jean-Christophe Babin, the company’s president and chief executive.

“I love the Monaco! It is mythical, a true icon, and that is why we have not dared to touch it for years.” His fine stable of celebrities include Leonardo DiCaprio, Maria Sharapova, and Lewis Hamilton, who is seen glancing at Steve McQueen’s wristwatch after a spoof race between them in a recent promotional film.

The silver screen has long enshrined product placement. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso featured in Above Us The Waves (1955; John Mills, Donald Sinden), the Tissot on James Stewart’s wrist in Rear Window (1954; with Grace Kelly), played a vital part in the drama, and Batman Forever (1995; Pierce Brosnan, Val Kilmer) also featured a Reverso. Rolex and Omega timepieces in James Bond films are practically stars in themselves. Paul Newman’s loyalty to Rolex Daytona pieces is the stuff of legend, with prices to match.

All good fun, but marketing managers need to be aware of a recent ruling by the US Federal Trade Commission. From December 1, anyone in the US who endorses a product on any social media, such as blogs and Facebook, will be liable for any false statements they make.

Although they constitute online word of mouth, celebs will look to be indemnified in their contracts. Maybe the days of “I wear a … watch” will return.

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