Bieber? Or Kardashian? How brands choose their celebrity ambassadors

Celebrity endorsements are nothing new — Mark Twain’s image once appeared on cigar packaging — but today, brand campaigns have the muscle and visibility of social media behind them. So the celebrities brands team up with for these digital campaigns aren’t chosen arbitrarily.

Brands recruit the celebrities they work with in order to appeal to their audiences, and more increasingly, that means the celebrity should have a massive, passionate following on social media.

Estée Lauder, the legacy makeup brand, launched a new fragrance called Modern Muse Le Rouge with model and well-known Kardashian clan member Kendall Jenner as the face of the campaign, which was led by NYC agency Lloyd&Co. With 29.5 million Instagram and 11.2 million Twitter followers, the 19-year-old pulls a huge, young social media following behind her every move. Along with including her in its fragrance commercials, Estée Lauder had her concoct a signature lipstick hue.

“Every day, on her social channels, Kendall is engaging with millions of young women who are obsessed with the latest trends in beauty and fashion – Estée Lauder wants to be a part of that world,” said Richard Ferretti, Estée Lauder’s senior vp and global creative director.

But not every celeb with a following is necessarily a good fit — and a complex relationship like a spokesmanship requires a sophisticated matchmaker. To find the right celebrity ambassador for them, brands will tap a third-party company that can pull and analyze the relevant data — which is often more than just follower counts.

Networked Insights, a social analytics company, examines data from about 500 million Twitter, Facebook and blog posts per day to gather information for brands, and ultimately help them choose the right ambassador for a given campaign. According to Jaime Brugueras, Networked Insights’ vp of analytics, the company has about 15,000 classifiers that divvy up posts about companies, TV shows, events, stars or movies into bits of information.

“If someone tweets, ‘Wow, Selena Gomez looked so beautiful at the ESPY Awards last night,’ that tells us three things: the celebrity, the event and the sentiment around it,” said Brugueras. “And we do that with every status, post and tweet that comes in our door.”

According to Brugueras, whose company worked with brands like Under Armour for its #IWillWhatIWant campaign, it’s the context, not the numbers, that lead to final decisions. Just because people are tweeting about Justin Bieber more often than other celebrities doesn’t necessarily mean he should be the face of your brand (unless your brand is Calvin Klein, that is).

GreenLight Media and Marketing, a branded-content agency and studio, also partnered with Under Armour for a branded video series, but not a traditional campaign. The five-part “Huddle Up” series starring Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, targeted at high school football players, was the company’s first stab at branded content. The team wanted to create a video series that would be motivating and inspiring for the young athletes.

“We thought Cam’s was a compelling story that our consumer would be interested in,” said Stephen Perkins, Under Armour’s senior brand manager. “It was an easy choice for us because Cam is a huge part of who we are as a brand, and we wanted to give him the opportunity to have his story told. That’s not easy to do in a 15- or 30-second clip.”

GreenLight and Under Armour chose Newton because, according to Steve Bender, GreenLight’s executive vp of strategy, he’s someone whom the athletes could learn from both on the field and off: Newton was arrested and charged with burglary in 2008 while playing college football but rehabilitated and continued on to the NFL.

 “We wanted the story to feel authentic for both Under Armour and Newton,” said Bender. “For sponsorships, our approach isn’t ‘how do we use this person to sell more products’; it’s ‘what is the story we want to tell and who can tell it best.’”

The five videos averaged around 400,000 views each on Under Armour’s YouTube channel, which has 77,000 subscribers. Newton’s 308,000 Twitter followers interacted with his coverage of the campaign. Newton wrote the copy of the social media posts himself, according to Perkins. 

Under Armour is known for signing major athletes to its brand: pro golf’s Jordan Spieth and Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry both currently represent Under Armour. According to Perkins, choosing the right athletes is a combination of “science and understanding the sport.”

“A lot of people in our marketing organization are former athletes, so it’s a bit like scouting,” he said. “And as we’re growing and doing more on social media, that’s going to be more of a focus — seeing how active athletes are in the social space.”

For the “Huddle Up” series, Under Armour and GreenLight spent 21 days filming Newton. Bender said that, thanks to the documentary-style approach, the branded content resonates deeper than a paid ad for both the athlete and the consumer.

“It’s really hard to get people to notice advertising anymore,” he said. “We wanted to show that Under Armour was part of the athlete’s will to succeed and show an authentic use of the product rather than that perfect-on-the-pedestal commercial. Instead, here’s this guy who’s fighting to get back on top, and this is what he’s wearing in the fight.”

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