Out of the jungle, into the trash
Independent – London,England,UK
… “What [reality TV] is doing is pushing people to make more considered decisions about who they are looking for to endorse products,” says PR Mark Borkowski. …
Out of the jungle, into the trash
Reality TV makes instant celebrities, but their shelf-life is limited, says Kate Nicholas
06 December 2004
It’s almost over. By 2230 GMT tonight one bedraggled C-list celebrity will have emerged victorious from the depths of the Australian rainforest straight into a phalanx of agents and PRs all planning to capitalise on the fame generated by eating witchety grubs.
Few entrants to I’m a Celebrity… will openly admit it but most have high expectations of, and have hired agencies to secure, lucrative endorsement deals. Sophie Anderton’s PR firm Coalition Total, for example, says that “for her it was purely a personal challenge related to her recovery” – but obviously a couple of cosmetics deals wouldn’t hurt. Certainly, previous survivors of the rainforest ordeal have used this period of renewed media exposure to secure valuable brand endorsements: Phil Tufnell, winner of the last series, has since tied up deals with brands such as Fosters, npower, Carphone Warehouse and First Choice.
The use of celebrities to add credence, profile and exposure to a brand is a time-honoured PR and advertising technique. But what reality TV has done in the broadest sense is to create overnight celebrities, whose fame is based entirely on an intensive period of exposure.
The obvious attraction of hooking up with a truly instant star is one of cost. As James Herring, whose company Taylor Herring PR handles the likes of Robbie Williams, Richard & Judy and Abi Titmuss, points out: “From brands’ point of view, if you try to get Madonna or Jude Law to endorse your product you’re looking at the best part of £1m plus. Where as for around £20-40,000 you could get the winner of a reality TV programme to turn up at a photocall and say the right things about your brand.”
The interactive dynamic of reality TV shows also provides an unprecedented access to the hearts and minds of consumers. As Ali Gunn of Curtis Brown, which is currently handling Paul Burrell, explains: “The whole point about reality TV is that it enables viewers to make decisions based on their own responses to individuals rather than ideas fed to them by the media or presented to them by the celebrities themselves.”
In an age of relationship marketing the concept of leveraging this connection is alluring. But the crucial question remains. What exactly are the public connecting to, and how does that affect a brand?
For years now, marketers and the public alike have been sold on the marketing theory that you are what you buy: that a consumer’s choice of brand conveys something to the outside world about their belief systems and values. Brand endorsement is a logical extension of this concept; but in the case of reality TV instant celebrities, it is increasingly unclear what values a brand is buying into.
The implications of endorsement from those less used to celebrity are also hard to predict. There are plenty of examples of quite seasoned players letting down the brands they have been paid to endorse: David Beckham shaving his head while endorsing Brylcreem, Jamie Oliver admitting that his restaurant wasn’t supplied by Sainsbury’s, Paul Gascoigne saying that Brut brought him out in a rash.
Possibly the greatest risk however lies in the ephemeral nature of the public’s interest. As Herring points out: “The danger is that because [celebrities] are created overnight, they can go from hero to zero extremely quickly. It is not a recipe for long-term brand endorsement.”
Despite the apparently insatiable appetite of the public for reality TV shows, a Tickbox survey undertaken this year for Raising Standards found that only 1 per cent of Britons say that celebrity endorsement affect their purchasing decisions. So could the “democratisation” of celebrity – or what has been described as the “celebrification” of culture – be devaluing the currency of celebrity? “What [reality TV] is doing is pushing people to make more considered decisions about who they are looking for to endorse products,” says PR Mark Borkowski. “Anyone can eat locusts. You should never stake the reputation of your brand on the winner of a reality TV show.”
So while in the coming months we will no doubt see a cookery book, if not a cookery show, from Janet Street-Porter, after encountering rats, crocodiles and snakes others might end up asking themselves – was it really worth it?
Kate Nicholas is editor-in-chief of PRWeek