The Risks of Celebrity Endorsers: What the Subway Brand Taught Us

Jared Fogle subway brand celebrity endorsement crisisCelebrities have been traditional favorites to feature in advertisements; they are seen as individuals with attractive qualities that are consistent with the brand’s value proposition. The right celebrity can reap huge rewards for a brand. Brands have capitalized on the marketing value of celebrity endorsers for years, with overwhelming success. While the practice is effective at enhancing brand image, instilling trust in and creating credibility with consumers, it remains a risky proposition for a brand, perhaps positioning it at serious risk for reputational damage.

Shock and disgust erupted across the nation when news broke of former Subway pitchman Jared Fogle child pornography investigation in 2015. Fogle, who thanks to Subway had become a household name, has brought much unwanted negative attention to the Subway brand, thrusting Subway into nearly every headline about the atrocious activities of the person who served as the face of Subway for more than a decade. Consumers will perpetually associate the Subway brand with a convicted pedophile.

Fogle joins the list of brand endorsers that become examples of the risks companies take when having high profile public figures endorse their products as part of their market strategy. Tiger Woods, Paula Deen, and Lance Armstrong are just a few familiar faces who were dropped from brands because of controversial headlines.  They highlight the fact that endorsements can be incredibly challenging and costly.

When a story that paints a negative image of a celebrity endorser plays out in front of the public, a tainted picture is also painted for the company’s brand, making it difficult to regain consumer trust to support the organization or buy the product. In the worst case it can lead to a company to rebrand its identity to recapture its place in the market.

When celebrity endorsers come under fire, companies must assess whether the negative actions of their endorser outweigh the value of the partnership that the brand has with the celebrity. It is common for advocates for causes associated with presumed victims of the celebrity endorser’s actions to immediately bring pressure on the brand to disassociate itself. It’s critical for a brand to anticipate the dissolution of its celebrity relationship and have a contingency plan prepared in case things do go awry to avoid or minimize damage to the brand.

By Gadeer  Ghannam  

Gadeer is an SDI intern earning her Master’s degree in Strategic Communications and Public Relations at Trinity Washington University.

December 17, 2015

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