Instant karma

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“And then all this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and I thought, is that karma – when you’re not nice – that the bad things happen to you?” Offhand speculation it may have been, but what Sharon Stone said about the Sichuan earthquake was indefensible. Christian Dior, which she endorses, was quick to put distance between brand and actress.

The story is a familiar one: a celebrity endorsement goes bad because the star does something stupid, malicious or unfortunate. Look at the squirming sponsors and it is hard to suppress a smile.

Paying a celebrity to endorse your product is a risky prospect at the best of times. Sporting stars can pick up injuries, lose form, or worst of all, be banned for using drugs.

If anything, endorsements outside sports are even more hazardous. Celebrities have human frailties, after all. Some of them have superhuman frailties: what can a company do when its public face is accused of rape, arrested for drunk driving, or booked into rehab?

Sometimes a strange poetry seems to be at work. The actress Cybill Shepherd endorsed beef in 1987, but was then quoted as saying that she tried to avoid red meat.

But it would be unwise to write off the celebrity endorsement deal because of a few unfortunate examples. Although the headlines seem to say otherwise, most celebrities see out their sponsorship deals without being charged with murder or arson, and even when they do not, some of the endorsements still deliver the goods. A bigger risk is that the celebrity brand is pushed too far. One can understand that footballers shift boots and shirts; it is less obvious that they can really boost sales for watches or fast food.

The ideal celebrity, it seems to us, would never demand too much cash, would steer clear of drugs and violence, and would certainly not express any controversial opinions. All things considered, Tony the Tiger represents the gold standard. It is just surprising that he only endorses frosted breakfast cereal.

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