It depends.

If the celebrity fits the brand and the spot acts as a springboard to elevate and personify the brand, then it’s good creative. Last year, Matthew McConaughey was in the driver’s seat for the new Lincoln Motor’s (luxury division of Ford Motor Company) MKC. According to ET Canada, sales for Lincoln shot up 25%, to their highest level in seven years. In this case, the campaign ads inadvertently also inspired a celebrity bonanza with Ellen Degeneres, Conan O’Brien and Canada’s Jim Carrey revvin’ their comedy engines to parody the commercials. A link to one of the MKC commercials is below and for those who haven’t seen it, just for giggles, I’ve included a link to Ellen’s parody. The parodies ended up driving the outcome, so the MKC ad spots got even more attention than they otherwise might have, thanks to … celebrity coverage.

There’s considerable financial investment attached to celebrity endorsement. The cost of the celebrity as a brand ambassador has to be weighed against ultimate traction for the brand, particularly for small companies with shallow pockets. So much about building brand and brand awareness is about breaking through the clutter. Yes, the right celebrity can cut through clutter like a warm knife through butter, but that warm knife also slices off a major part of your advertising budget. Don’t forget frequency of the message. In any company, large or small, there are only so many advertising dollars to go around. For the strongest traction, dollars need to be used on a message that’s seen frequently and for best results, spread across more than one medium.

Celebrity Endorsements: There is risk involved.

There’s the danger of the celebrity overriding the brand. What’s actually being sold? The celebrity or the brand? It pays to be careful.

There’s also credibility. Today’s consumers demand truth, which goes back to my first point: a celebrity must fit the brand. If something smells fishy, someone will Tweet the stink and quickly. Consumers are savvy enough to know that any celebrity is in it partly for the money. But it’s a fine line; if the celebrity is perceived as just in it for the money then brand suffers. There’s got to be authenticity; like Cher modeling Marc Jacobs’ stuff this month. Can you think of anyone who could better carry off this Marc Jacob’s dress? Talk about brand revitalizing for Cher too! Makes me want to go back and revisit her ‘Dark Lady’ lyrics, “The fortune queen from New Orleans …” (Yes, Cher really is almost 70!) In this case, endorsement is mutually beneficial, working for Jacobs and for Cher.

Celebrities can energize a brand or re-energize one.  They can change consumer perception of a brand, even old and dusty ones. Remember Proctor and Gamble’s ‘new’ Old Spice Man, ex-football player Issaiah Mustafa. ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”. It spoke to men and to women, the ones that typically buy after-shave or cologne for “their men.” The spot helped reenergize a brand that was, at that point, as old as Cher on her next birthday. Done by Wieden and Kennedy out of Portland Oregon, with more than 65 million views on YouTube, it’s still one of the most successful ad campaigns, ever.

There is a downside, of course: If a celebrity puts a foot wrong, or the ad campaign hits a nerve. Think Tiger’s troubles (even shareholders of his sponsor companies lost billions!). Think Rob Lowe’s recent spots for DirecTV which ticked off a rival cable company enough to lodge a formal complaint and one particular spot that incensed the International Paruresis Association (also called shy bladder disease, a surprisingly common social phobia in which people who have trouble doing their business with other people around). The ads were cancelled.

Done well, celebrity endorsements can be a big boost for brand.  Gone wrong, they’re a PR nightmare. But at the end of the day, a celebrity is still an actor and no celebrity endorsement goes far without good creative backing it. Just make sure your ad budget can support the star light.

 View the Celebrity Endorsements: