Global recognition is a hallmark of an A-list celebrity.
For instance, Lady Gaga has a bigger following outside the U.S. than in it, a fact that doesn’t diminish her standing as a household name in her home country. Rather, this insight underlines a point familiar to international brand managers: Mega-stardom knows no borders. Among other U.S.-based celebrities whose audiences abroad are bigger than in their home markets are Jennifer Lopez, Justin Bieber and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson.
Transnational reach is vital to brand managers looking for celebrities to front global campaigns, and it helps identify a celebrity who can support what the brand wants to say and who it wants to reach. But understanding that true optimization calls for rigor, savvy brand experts test their preconceptions about the suitability of particular celebrities, both as an element of overall quality control and to guard against expensive missteps in key global markets.
The core of celebrity is recognizability, which is quantitatively measurable. Also measurable are a star’s likability and relatability, factors that can help brand experts see how a particular celebrity may help or hinder a global campaign. Bluntly, if a celebrity in a global campaign is only recognized in the U.S., their value as an endorser will be lost on a significant part of the brand’s target market.
As it happens, a star can have a face a lot of people around the world know, but not be perceived in the same way in different regions. In one major market, for example, an older action star may be viewed as smart, charming, relatable and highly likable: the perfect global ambassador, at first glance. But in their home country, their value as a global spokesperson may be impaired by negative reaction to their habit of making polarizing comments on politics and society.
Al Lieberman, an academic authority in entertainment marketing and the head of the Entertainment, Media and Technology Initiative at New York University’s Stern School of Business said, “Global markets have their own form of barriers to certain celebrities due to ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, background and on occasion even roles they have played.” In other words, brand managers who don’t test their gut instincts risk committing regional blunders that could have been prevented.
Brand managers now have access to analytics to help ensure their celebrity endorsers resonate with target markets and identify celebrities who, though not objectively the biggest stars around, ring truer to consumers in particular niches.
For a current global campaign to associate its brand with long-distance running, athletic shoemaker Nike chose Kevin Hart.
Hart, now in hot water over Twitter remarks, has a partnership with Nike built on his recognition among runners as a runner in his own right, both in the U.S. and in China. That bolsters the comedian’s utility as an international ambassador and makes him a good example of a brand taking into account how familiar people in a target market are with a relevant aspect of a spokesman’s lifestyle.
Just as resonance with a niche can increase the value of one celebrity over another, so can a celebrity’s individual attributes be important to brands eager to reduce subjectivity in their decision-making.
Other considerations for choosing celebrities for global campaigns are things like voice recognizability and the celebrity’s personal connection to the brand. Where voiceovers are important, a celebrity may be wasted in regions their voice isn’t known. A celebrity’s endorsement of a new pharmaceutical carries more weight where it’s known they have battled sickness themselves. An athlete’s word about athletic equipment resonates better where their sport, their standing in the sport and their role in the game are at least roughly understood in major global markets.
There are hundreds of other factors for assessing a celebrity’s match with a brand. Taken together, this information can help brand managers understand how star performers and athletes are perceived in different markets, a matter of particular importance given “the growing global love affair with the Hollywood film industry, American network and cable TV programming,” according to Lieberman.
The more brand managers know about the celebrities they’re considering, the more they can strengthen the bonds with consumers in those target markets in order to enhance their brand’s overall global success.