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Celebrity Endorsements Raise Company Profiles


Celebrity Endorsements Raise Company Profiles

by Heather Granato

Denver Bronco Terrell Davis appears in ads for EAS, which is the offical supplement provider for the team.

In 1994, a company called InterHealth Nutraceuticals brought supermodel Kim Alexis on board to endorse its new diet ingredient CitriMax. The launch was a huge success and the product can still be found in many formulas in the dietary supplement industry.

Using a famous celebrity, whether a model, sports figure, actor or political activist, can raise the profile of a company in several ways. It can help with consumer awareness of a brand, endorse the effects of a particular product or ingredient, or drive sales of a long-standing product that needs a boost. More companies in the natural products industry are hitching their brands to stars, and seeing increased consumer awareness. However, the majority of these endorsements are for brand awareness, vs. specific product sales. What does it take to line up working with a celebrity, and how does it benefit retail sales?

Working With a Star

Once a company makes the decision to seek out a celebrity to endorse its brand or a specific product, it's time to figure out who fills the need. "Selecting a celebrity spokesperson is a subjective and sometimes lengthy process," said Sheldon Baker, principal with Baker-Dillon Public Relations. Everyone has their own opinions--perhaps the president wants a celebrity with blonde hair because it reminds him of his daughter, or an executive wants a figure skater for the endorsement because he enjoys ice skating. However, of paramount importance is whether the celebrity speaks to the demographic market the company is trying to reach.

Eric Anderson, director of marketing for Missoula, Mont.-based Technical Sourcing International (TSI), said his company specifically chose to work with Linda Evans because she filled several of its needs. "I support using a celebrity if that person speaks to your target market, believes in the product and has an established reputation with consumers," he said. In Evans' case, she had been speaking for the past few years to audiences about women's health issues. TSI originally hired Evans to speak at a seminar at last year's NNFA trade show; the positive response by consumers and manufacturers prompted the company to move forward on an endorsement deal for its Ostivone product.

In other cases, a middle man or the celebrity himself approaches a company about an endorsement. Nature's Way started working with mountaineer Ed Viesturs in 1998 after a third party learned that Viesturs was interested in working with a dietary supplement company. According to Craig Sanders, senior vice president of marketing for Springville, Utah-based Nature's Way, the endorsement has been more a validation of what the company says elsewhere rather than a commercial venture. "It's a fit because in his line of work, everything he does is very meticulous and the choices he makes are calculated to attain the best result," Sanders said. "It's an implicit endorsement that he chooses reliable equipment and that's enough for us."

Similarly, EAS, the Golden, Colo.-based sports nutrition company, was originally approached by Denver Bronco Bill Romanowski when he was traded to the team in 1997. "Basically, Bill came to us and said he used our products and wanted to work with us," said Jim Nagle, EAS marketing director. Romanowski's teammate Shannon Sharpe later ran into EAS president Bill Phillips at a Denver mall and started talking about the products and working together. More players signed on as they saw results with the products, and in 1998, EAS became the official sports supplement provider to the team.

Cost/Benefit Analysis

Regardless of how the relationship begins, there is always an element of give and take. Depending on the profile of the endorser, the amount of publicity desired and how the relationship started, cost to a company varies widely.

To line up most major celebrities, companies work with talent agents to scout availability. According to public relations companies that have helped put together deals, the cost usually runs $300,000 to $400,000 for a one-year contract. The cost varies depending on what a company wants. If it's just public relations, it might be lower, while including the celebrity in advertising would be higher. There are aggregate costs as well. "The sponsor company also picks up all travel expenses, including first class air travel, top-of-the-line hotels, and more," Baker said. New photography, advertising placement costs, developing a media tour, etc., are all additional costs on top of the baseline. And naturally, products are included in hopes that the celebrity will use them.

Nature's Way said it does provide Viesturs with a retainer, but it is more to support his climbing than to do marketing or advertising. The company also provides Viesturs and his family with whatever Nature's Way products they desire. Similarly, Green Foods in Oxnard, Calif., has been working with marathon runner Jerry Dunn; the company supplies Dunn with products and also compensates him for time or major exposure events.

According to Dennis Harris, vice president of public relations and advertising with Green Foods, the money question is a difficult one. "Does the fact that you offer substantial financial rewards to someone, even if they use the product, in some way taint the relationship?" he asked. Instead, working with celebrities who use the product and believe in it, even if they weren't signed on to endorse it, can prove more of a benefit.

In the case of EAS and the Broncos, Nagle said the company provides the team with all the sports supplements they need, plus any company clothing that players are interested in (you may have seen a Bronco in EAS gear during playoff season). EAS did an ad recently with Terrell Davis and the product MyoPlex, which Nagle said is the first time the company has really marketed the association through advertising.

Retailer Reaction

What can a retailer do to bring this consumer recognition into the store and turn it into sales? Some companies make available to retailers a variety of POP materials, such as shelf talkers and brochures, that include the celebrity's photo, information about the product and an endorsement. "These types of materials carry the message that this person believes in the product and you [the consumer] can be comfortable believing in the product," Anderson said. "With so many products available in the dietary supplement industry, a celebrity can help act as a carrier for a product's message to consumers."

Linda Evans

Whatever happened to Krystal Carrington? Her portrayer, Linda Evans, is still active, particularly in the area of women's health and fitness. She has been speaking around the country for a few years, including a trip to the NNFA show in San Antonio in 1998 to speak at a seminar sponsored by Technical Sourcing International (TSI), producer of the branded ingredient Ostivone. Evans said after the seminar that she started taking the product and loved the results. So when she was contacted at the end of 1998 about coming on board as a spokesperson, she didn't hesitate. "I had tried it and loved what it did for me," she said.

Evans has been taking Ostivone for better than six months now and no longer has to take the prescription she was taking for potassium deficiency. "I was looking for this product," she said. "It fills a need I knew I had and one I didn't know I had." The product inhibits bone loss and also creates more bone density.

A celebrity as well known as Evans is certainly a catch for any company, and she said she is very selective about the endorsements she chooses to do. "I would never sell myself out for money," she said. "And because of Dynasty, I don't have to. I have not endorsed a lot of things, because I really have to love a product to do an endorsement. I have to be honest and love myself, and if I lie to others, I can't love myself."

Jerry Dunn

Jerry Dunn has been known as the Marathon Man since he established a world record in 1993 for running 104 marathons in one year. That was also the year he began his long association with Green Foods Corp. and using its product Green Magma. He said when he began using the product, he was able to stop taking 3,200 mg of Ibuprofen daily to keep down the inflammation from running and was soon the only supplement he was taking. "I've used Green Magma daily since February of 1993 and believe in the product," he said.

In fact, Dunn has not been consistently working with the company in an endorsement capacity for the full six years, but has recently come back to doing endorsement work with Green Foods. He was set to appear at the Natural Products Expo in March, and has been wearing Green Magma apparel while being interviewed on various television appearances. In the past, Dunn did an infomercial for the product and was interviewed on the Today show, which mentioned his taking Green Magma.

However, Dunn emphasized that his endorsement is secondary to his personal belief in the product. "The products I endorse I actually use," he said. "I get press and the temptation could be to endorse anything, but I don't." Currently, in addition to his work with Green Foods, he also has endorsement deals with Power Bar and Breathe Right nasal strips.

Ed Viesturs

Everest was a stunningly beautiful IMAX film. It also featured a man on a quest--Ed Viesturs. He's aiming to climb the 14 highest peaks in the world without supplemental oxygen; so far he's topped 10 and is heading off to Nepal this spring to attempt two more. To help in his quest, Viesturs takes dietary supplements. In particular, he's been working with Nature's Way since 1998. "I only endorse things that I use and believe in," he said. "If I can't use it and don't believe in it, then it's really not worth it for me."

Viesturs uses Nature's Way's Daily Multivitamin, Ginkgo, Echinacea and Antioxidants. He said his wife also takes supplements, particularly to keep healthy while chasing after their new daughter. Nature's Way also offers sponsorship money to support his climbs. "I can't buy a plane ticket with a box of vitamins," he laughed. In return, Viesturs has done speaking engagements at trade shows and conferences, focusing primarily on his adventures more than the company or products.

His explanation for choosing to use dietary supplements is a familiar one: preventive care. "It's not like you take a supplement and see the result the next day. It's a long-term health benefit. For me, when I'm on an expedition and abusing my body and climbing hard, supplements help me perform better and stay healthier."

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