Skip to main content

What Is Celebrity Advertising?

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, advertising, and public relations.


Celebrity advertising is the use of a celebrity's image or endorsement in advertisements. The goal of doing so is to associate the positive attributes and fame of the celebrity with what is being promoted. On the surface, that sounds like an easy way to help build a successful brand. However, it can also destroy a brand in short order.

What follows is a review of the various types of celebrity advertising that can be used, along with tips for using it successfully.

The following is a commercial from one of the most famous celebrity advertising contracts ever done. Back in 1983, the "King of Pop" Michael Jackson received a $5 million contract to promote the brand. The relationship continued for about a decade and included integration with Jackson's concert work over the years. However, it also drew criticism since it was rumored that Jackson did not drink Pepsi.

Advertising Featuring Celebrities

Advertising that features a celebrity, similar to the famous Michael Jackson Pepsi ads, is using a celebrity's image to create a connection with a target marketing demographic. So advertisers should use care in hiring a celebrity that the intended audience will readily recognize and with whom they can relate or who is an aspirational role model.

The ad may or may not show the star using or talking about the product or service. As with the Jackson ad campaign, it featured him singing and dancing but not guzzling Pepsi. Pepsi merely wanted to connect with Jackson's huge worldwide following.

In contrast, sports drink Gatorade has featured many athletes over the decades, and they are definitely shown chugging the drink in ads and during games.

In this next Chanel commercial featuring actress Nicole Kidman, there is only the mention of the product name. Absolutely no showing the product or a product being used. It's meant to just associate the beauty of the Chanel and Chanel No. 5 brands with the beautiful Nicole Kidman.

Celebrity Endorsements

Ads that feature celebrities endorsing a product or service take this advertising strategy to another level. Unlike some of the campaigns that just feature a celebrity's image, in these ads, the star is actually stating they use the product or service. This can help encourage the target audience to try the advertiser's offering.

Celebrity Sponsorship

Particularly in the sports arena, sponsorship of star athletes is extremely common. In these contracts, the advertiser pays for things such as celebrities' expenses in exchange for them sporting the advertiser's logos or products when they make appearances or while they are performing.

NASCAR and Indy driver Danica Patrick has been sponsored by domain name registrar and hosting company,, as is obvious in this video.

Product Placement

Seeing a movie star using a brand-name product or service in a movie is not an accident. Product placements in a movie or television show can be a subtle (or sometimes not so subtle!) way to get advertising inside the entertainment itself with celebrities and characters using the branded products.

Who wouldn't want a BMW like James Bond? Note that the remote driving mobile device in this clip is not a currently available BMW option. But with self-driving cars on the horizon, who knows if it will be in the future? We'll have to wait and see.

Corporate Celebrities in Advertising

Sometimes corporate leaders or other staff can become celebrities and are featured in the company's advertising. They essentially become the face of the brand and the business. While this can be quite successful in ad campaigns because it humanizes a business, it can also lead to trouble if the pitchman resigns, is fired, dies or the company wants to change its image.

If a corporate celebrity dies, a deal will have to be made with the deceased's estate for the continued use of the person's name, image, video and audio. If, however, the featured celebrity resigns or is fired, use of the person's image going forward needs to be stipulated in any termination package.

Regardless of the way a corporate celebrity's tenure as pitchman for the company ends, the person's appearance and involvement in advertising and how that involvement willl end should be addressed in employment contracts or as a separate contract. Consult a legal professional experienced in employment and entertainment law when making these agreements.

A CEO that became a famous pitchman for his company was Lee Iacocca of Chrysler, who was featured in ads during the 1980s.

Advertising That Gains Celebrity Status

Sometimes the pitchmen (or characters) in advertising gain celebrity status themselves. Their influence can expand beyond the advertising into other branded entertainment, appearances or efforts.

Once such example was the popular GEICO Cavemen. A television sitcom was built around the Cavemen characters (Wikipedia) featured in the insurance company's ads. It was a contrived concept but shows how advertising can create a celebrity of its own.

Another example is the restaurant McDonald's Ronald McDonald (Wikipedia). The character has expanded beyond just a mascot and brand character into the branded Ronald McDonald House Charities that provides housing for families of sick children.

Social Media Influencers as Celebrities

As social media has matured, a new type of celebrity has emerged that advertisers want: Influencers.

While influencers could be real celebrities from television, movies, and online, they could also be just regular people who have built a large and/or engaged fan base on the likes of Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, etc.

The appeal of real people social media influencers for advertising is that they can be seen as more authentic than regular celebrities. People are usually aware that big-name celebrities are paid for shilling products and services. But if it’s a regular person, any endorsement might be seen as being more genuine. What many people don’t realize is that real people influencers are also often paid in free products, affiliate commissions, perks, or straight-up cash for featuring a sponsor’s offerings.

Now government agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States, are stepping up enforcement for greater transparency for influencers. Disclosure is now required for any payment in cash or in kind for the promotion of a sponsor’s products and services. Even though the responsibility to disclose is primarily the responsibility of the influencer, sponsoring advertisers would be well advised to monitor their influencers’ activities for compliance.

There are more logistic challenges with influencer celebrities, too. Advertisers need to do research to find the most relevant influencers. They often enlist the help of marketing agencies or services dedicated to influencer marketing. The cost to use influencers can vary wildly. As well, the cost can quickly go up if demand for desired influencers increases significantly. This is much harder to budget and control than standard media ads that feature genuine celebrities.

What About Dead Celebrities?

Marilyn Monroe. Einstein. Elvis. All iconic figures whose popularity continues well beyond their passing, sometimes even growing after they are gone. Advertisers often want to associate with these popular characters by using their images, video or audio clips. While an appearance contract cannot be drawn up between the advertiser and the celebrity, usually, the estates of those deceased icons contract with advertisers for this use.

The problem comes in when the advertising may tarnish the image of the now-dead celebrity or may be disrespectful. Only the estate of the celebrity can make that decision. But will they make a decision that's in the best interest of the deceased?

Below is another commercial from fashion design and fragrance company Chanel featuring Marilyn Monroe, who was long associated with the fragrance Chanel No. 5. While the details of this use are unknown, it is in keeping with a brand that she promoted in life.

Challenges for Advertisers

One of the riskiest factors of using celebrity advertising for advertisers is if the star loses favor or even becomes disgraced in the public eye. This can have a negative effect on the brand name. So when a negative incident occurs with a sponsored or hired celebrity, advertisers will either seek to distance themselves from the star, or they may even rush to the star's aid if they feel the charges are unjustified.

Today, advertiser contracts with celebrities may include clauses stipulating what may happen if conduct standards are not maintained. Some may even include morals clauses. Actions could include breaking the contract or even seeking damages. Today, there's even insurance protection that sponsors can purchase!

One of the most dramatic cases in recent history was that of superstar cyclist Lance Armstrong after it was discovered that he could have been using performance-enhancing substances. Some of his sponsors made noise about wanting their money back. However, during the time that they were sponsoring him, they benefitted from his positive image.

Challenges for Celebrities

On the flip side of the equation, celebrities also accept some risk if their sponsoring advertisers fall into disrepute. If they endorse a product that eventually is found to be harmful or manufactured in deplorable conditions, they will take some public relations heat.

One such case, which is not unique, is when celebrities are cited for products produced in sweatshops that bear their names.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 03, 2020:

Hi Carrie! You are correct! You cannot use a celebrity image in your ads or marketing without consent. Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe and well!

Carrie Lee Night from Northeast United States on May 02, 2020:

Interesting :) I think I am correct to assume you cannot advertise a product with a celebrity image without a business agreement and or consent. Thank you for sharing :) Have a wonderful week :)

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 30, 2015:

Hello LadyFiddler! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Happy Weekend!

Joanna Chandler from On Planet Earth on January 30, 2015:

Interesting mhmmm very!

Thanks for sharing this hub with us

~~ A beautiful to U and urs :) ~~

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 30, 2015:

Hi purl3agony! Indeed it can be a delicate PR dance for both celebs and the companies that hire them. I can see celebs wanting to purchase that endorsement insurance, too. Now that you mention it, I'm trying to think of a reverse example. The only one I can think immediately is for an arthritis drug which was celebrity endorsed and then it was found to cause health issues. If I was a celeb, I'd steer clear of any pharma endorsements. Just sayin'. Thanks for the additional angle. If I do find additional examples, I'll update the hub. Have a great weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 30, 2015:

Hi georgescifo! It is EXPENSIVE (worthy of all capital letters). And, you're right, if it bring the business you want and it fits the budget, it is worth it. Have a great weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 30, 2015:

Hi Audrey! Yes, it is as classic as she was. Indeed they are memorable, especially if the tie-in between the celeb and the product or company is a good fit. Thanks for stopping by and Happy Weekend!

Donna Herron from USA on January 30, 2015:

Hi Heidi! This is a really thought-provoking hub. I was of course aware of celebrity endorsements, but really think about all the various types that I see every day. You share some great examples and an interesting discussion about what this means both for the celebrity and the company.

I'm sure there have been times when the company does something that brings bad publicity and the celebrity distances themselves from the situation, but I can't think of any. Can you?

georgescifo from India on January 30, 2015:

celebrity advertising has been there for a long time and it is very much expensive. But if your business returns are worth it, then there is no issue in advertising with celebrities.

Audrey Howitt from California on January 29, 2015:

I love the current Marilyn/Chanel ads--often these kinds of ads are quite memorable!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 29, 2015:

Hey Everyone, just added a link to this hub to a Wall Street Journal article that discusses a new insurance product sponsors can buy to protect their companies from problems with spokespeople. Interesting development, eh?

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 26, 2013:

Howdy, mjkearn! Thanks for stopping by and kind comments. Using celebrities for advertising is a very complex issue in the marketing arena making it almost a completely separate discipline. Glad there are lawyers to sort it all out for celebs and the advertisers.

mjkearn on June 26, 2013:

Hi Heidi

WOW what a read. Found this riveting and thoroughly enjoyed. Some great points about do celebrities actually use the advertised products and should they pay back monies if they fall into disgrace.

Voted up and have a great day.


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 25, 2013:

Good evening, billybuc! The sums that some celebs pull in are astronomical. Many of them make more on the sponsorships and appearances in ads than they do on their craft or sport! My personal feeling is that there are some significant risks and costs on all sides of the celebrity advertising equation making it an investment to be very carefully considered. Happy Wednesday to you, too!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 25, 2013:

Unbelievable the amount of money spent for one ad. I was going to ask if it is successful using celebrities, but then I caught myself and realized that just because celebrities don't interest me does not mean that the rest of the nation isn't impressed....and they are!

Nice job, Heidi.

Have a wonderful Wednesday my friend.