INFLUENCING goes back way before Instagram’s pouty advent. In the 1760s, Wedgewood started using its Royal Warrant for marketing and since then the coercion and sponsorship of the famous to endorse brands has grown to see companies annually adding billions of (usually) dollars to the pension funds of sport and film stars.

The current era of fame as an end in itself has seen the establishment of a raft of social media presences whose jobs, it seems, are solely to influence.

There’s also a tier of successful musicians who’ve realised they can’t make the fortunes their predecessors did, so they have become paid endorsers of anything they can justify to themselves.

All of these have been used, with varying degrees of success, to promote brands.

But paid and unpaid influencers can have negative effects as well as positive ones.

The negative effects can be best illustrated by what I’ll choose to call the Westbrook effect. In 2002, when cocaine enthusiast and EastEnders star Daniella Westbrook chose to deck out herself and her toddler daughter head-to-toe in Burberry check, the label suddenly found itself popular with a level of society that didn’t quite fit the Burberry profile. The sudden move from exclusivity to ubiquity caused a shift in the public perception of the brand that took years to rectify.

The Westbrook effect did more to boost counterfeiting than sales of the real thing - I managed to buy a Burberry shirt, scarf and baseball cap from a Leather Lane market trader. He laughingly insisted they were genuine as I bargained him down to a tenner. They weren’t for me, by the way. They were a present for someone I didn’t like.

Celebrity endorsements and connections can repel people for all sorts of reasons. Some people see loaded celebrities who decide they need to get just a little bit closer to having ALL the money by renting themselves to products for the day. And then think less of a brand for taking this route.

Some people just have a dislike (irrational or not) of the particular celebrity the brand has chosen.

Celebrity or influencer endorsements work best when there is proper synergy. Sports stars can be seen using the products of their sponsors day in, day out. Models and actors can be seen looking fantastic in fashion and couture they have been paid to wear.

Like wearing a tuxedo on a big night out, celebrity endorsement may be the easy option, but to have real impact, the fit has to be perfect.

If the tux doesn’t fit, the wearer will look like an imposter.


Pete Bell