The absolute worst type of celebrity endorsement

August 2021

The idea of a celebrity, be they from TV, sport or whatever, has long been popular with brands to push their products or services. There are some great examples of this strategy being successful, with a standout one for me being Gary Lineker’s long-term relationship with Walkers Crisps. He’s also done rather well out of it, and in October last year signed a new £1.2m deal to keep the 25 year relationship going for at least another three years.

A key factor in the success of Mr Lineker’s endorsement of the UK’s most popular crisp brand, is the nature and delivery of the advertising. At no time has the creative attempted to try and fool us that the footballer-now-TV presenter religiously eats the product every day for breakfast, or attributes his considerable success in life to the amazing taste of cheese and onion, but instead we’ve consistently been given a very light-hearted and often humorous endorsement. Add to that the guy’s obvious likeability, on-going TV presence and lack of scandal (well there was that affair and marriage breakup but other than that . . .) then it’s been a resounding recipe for success – and I very much doubt the marketing and sales teams at Walkers would disagree.

Now let’s look at a very different and recent celebrity endorsement – albeit a lesser celebrity and lesser brand – which is fundamentally flawed from the outset.

You’ll all know Ben Fogle, the guy who came to our TV screens some 21 years ago in the hit BBC TV series Castaway. He’s since gone on to present a number of other TV shows, but all with the same underpinning tenets of Ben being a good guy with a love of nature, a caring disposition, and an appreciation of people doing their own thing and pushing back on consumerism and all-things corporate.

That all being the case, I was intrigued to see a sponsored post from Ben Fogle (i.e. an advert) come up on my Facebook newsfeed. The post was badged from his page, but all the content was about a Nestle brand called Mindful Chef, with Ben telling us how he now has their wonderful food products delivered to his home each week. There’s video of Ben and his wife gleefully unpacking the contents of a Mindful Chef delivery, as he tells us how they’re now discovering new and exciting recipes they hadn’t previously considered.

From Nestle’s point of view and in principle, this celebrity endorsement of one of their lesser brands makes a whole lot of sense, as Ben’s wholesome image does their generally dreadful corporate reputation no harm at all (Google ‘why is Nestle so hated’). Of course the adverts don’t state that Mindful Chef is a Nestle brand, but as they’re appearing on Facebook then Joe Public takes no time at all in pointing that out.

And when that fact is pointed out, it’s generally in the context of “What the hell are you doing Ben?” But it isn’t just that one of the nicest guy’s on TV has sold his sole to the devil, is apparently endorsing the use of mountains of packaging and supporting the idea of increased carbon food miles, but that, by it appearing on his own FB page, we’re expected to believe that he’s genuinely using the Mindful Chef offer. Okay it’s not outside the realms of possibility, but really what are the chances? Given everything else he stands for, it seems reasonable to assume that he and his wife would shop locally, know how to cook, and would never have their evening meals routinely delivered from London in a big cardboard box.

Whilst Ben Fogle is the real loser in all this – albeit no doubt rather wealthier – because it damages his reputation, the fact that Nestle have set out to fool consumers but not got away with it means it isn’t great for them either. A simple measure of this is that most of the comments on the FB posts are hidden within an hour or so as folk go on the attack by pointing out Ben’s hypocrisy and lack of honesty, and of course some of the notable crimes against humanity which Nestle are arguably responsible for.

Gary got it right with Walkers Crisps (which is actually owned by PepsiCo) and Walkers got it right with Gary, but Ben and ANY food brand owned by Nestle is simply never going to stack up – in particular when there’s an unsuccessful attempt to fool consumers on social media. Both parties should have known better, though no doubt they now do.

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