The fact that celebrities sell products seems to be accepted in marketing. The extent to which this is true could be argued, but what has caught my eye is a new phenomenon – one which up to a few years ago was not seen in the UK.
The first iteration came around Christmas, when Philip Schofield was revealed as the new face of webuyanycar.com. This relationship does not seem the most natural one – Philip is surely more ‘Ocado and Avocado’ than second hand car salesperson – but, if the cheque is big enough, why not?
Things became more interesting was when Dancing on Ice returned to ITV in January, after a four-year absence. ITV’s favourite anchor was back as host and the programme had a new sponsor: webuyanycar.com.
This is where things get complicated. We now have a programme sponsored by a company that also uses the presenter of the programme as the face of its brand. Now, I should point out that none of this is against the rules, but surely it blurs the lines between what the viewer perceives as programming and advertising?
Even more bizarre was a case on my radio ‘guilty pleasure’ Talk Sport. One of the day’s guest presenters was former England footballer Stuart Pearce. One of the advertisements played out just after Stuart had finished talking was for Bet Fred, voiced by its brand ambassador: Stuart Pearce. Within the same minute of programming, the same person was speaking as a guest on a show and endorsing a betting company in an advert. If this is not confusing for the listener, what is?
Thirty years ago, on my first visit to the US, I vividly recall listening to radio presenters endorsing products on air during a show. For someone brought up with UK commercial radio and the BBC it was completely unexpected and new. Thirty years later, here we are with an increased blurring of the lines between editorial and advertising – particularly around celebrity endorsements.