When celebrities go bad

Saturday 31st August 2013

Click here for coverage of the article in The Grocer

Pop star Rihanna’s recent High Court ruling against Topshop provides a salutary lesson for any retailer seeking celebrity endorsement of their brand or products.

Rihanna had accused Topshop of falsely presenting that t-shirts bearing her image were endorsed by her.   It brings into sharp focus the need for retailers to secure official celebrity endorsement and understand how to maximise returns from it.

Grocery retailers and food and drink brands are no strangers to celebrity-led marketing campaigns. High profile examples include Sainsbury’s with David Beckham and, more recently, Morrisons with Ant & Dec. Some also use celebrity athlete endorsements around specific sports events, as Powerade did with Jessica Ennis during London 2012.

But even official celebrity endorsements do not necessarily run smoothly. A major risk is the celebrity ceasing to be associated with the sport, sporting club, music act or TV series that they are part of when the deal is originally done.

When negotiating a deal with a celebrity, it is imperative to obtain protections to ensure that you get what you pay for or, at least, that you can have some money back if you do not.

Similarly, the celebrity could fail to appear in the event or show that they were contracted to appear in, whether through illness, injury or failure to be selected.  There is also the chance that they might do or say something which harms the retailer or product brand, or that the celebrity might endorse – directly or indirectly – a competing brand.

To avoid these pitfalls, it is important to obtain category exclusivity and a commitment from the celebrity that they will not endorse or promote any competitor.  Any agreement should also include provisions entitling sponsors to money back if the celebrity fails to appear, or breaches carefully defined provisions around conduct and competing endorsements.

With the desire of grocery retailers and retail brands for celebrity endorsement unlikely to diminish any time soon, an official contractual arrangement with a range of protections is essential.

For further information and advice please contact Retail expert Andy Brian.