Having a celebrity-endorsed collection may seem a sensible move towards gaining a lift in sales and leveraging some kudos, but I’m really not sure that having such a close relationship is a particularly good thing for any brand – and here’s why.
Firstly, celebrities are a fickle bunch, and in a badly timed revelation they can go from A-lister to Z-lister in a flash – whatever happed to Tulisa? Of course, most furniture and flooring brands aren’t after Hollywood stars or even X-factor judges, but the same is true of even some of our most treasured home and lifestyle TV celebs, with impropriety leading to a potentially epic downfall a genuine risk.
Even if your chosen celeb manages to stay out of the headlines for the wrong reason, there’s an inevitable peak and more worryingly, a subsequent gradual decline to their career. Strike it lucky and you might hit them on the way up and ride on their coat-tails for a good few years – get it wrong and you might well ride the wave straight into obscurity.
Joining them at their peak means they likely know their own worth and will want to cash-in, demanding an eye-watering fee and then a healthy percentage of any sales bearing their name. Partnering with them on the way down because you got a deal … well, then you’ve only got yourself to blame.
When you think of the two biggest stars in UK home and lifestyle TV, Kirstie and Phil (who doesn’t love an episode of Love It or List It, even if Kirstie wins nine times out of 10 because who of sane mind would move after spending £50k on making their home perfect?), I have absolutely no doubt they would demand a six-figure up-front fee, and anywhere north of 10% of profits on sales. Getting someone at the top of their game is not a cheap way to brand success.
For some, though, the gamble is worth taking – particularly in the competitive world of retailing where big brand stores compete for every bit of attention across broadcast, online and print. Phil Spencer’s voice-over on the Wickes advert certainly makes me feel warm inside, but does it really give me impetus to rush out to Wickes? And anyone remember DFS’ Linda Barker collection? See – I told you it was a risky game.
Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a two-way street, either. There is little or no elevation in a celebrity’s status by working with brands in the home and lifestyle sectors, it is merely them cashing in and making money while the spotlight remains bright.
Now, a wiser move might be to look at commissioning well-known designers to come up with a range, and indeed on the surface it’s probably a more sensible decision for those involved directly in product design and manufacturing. Getting a designer with a relatively mature level of fame to design a new coffee table or lamp – everyone loves a designer lamp - might even be considered by some as a canny move. However, it’s also one with potential complications.
Design is hugely personal, and just because a product bears the name of someone like Tom Dixon or even Virgil Abloh (Ikea references here), it isn’t necessarily any more attractive. Home interiors are not fashion, and people tend to look at purchases as a longer game. If the bed fits the style of the home, then it really doesn’t matter who’s designed it. In effect, a designer won’t be enough of a reason to purchase something – so what does a designer range actually bring to the long-term brand picture?
It is more a question of raising profile in an immediate and instant way – changing brand perception by proxy, if you like. It could work as a flash approach to getting profile in lifestyle media and on social, but sustaining a long-term brand perception shift this way is almost impossible – unless you can keep reinventing and bringing out new product from the designer on a frequent cycle, something that is costly and not feasible for most manufacturers.
Also, it probably goes against the designer’s desire – don’t forget, they have their own brand to nurture, too – so it’s an unlikely premise anyhow. After a brief reinvigoration and moment in the spotlight, an exciting launch and maybe an award, the hype soon dies, and what remains is the longevity and saleability of the product.
And so we’ve come full circle – what ultimately remains is the design of the product (of course, it could be argued that good designers will, by nature, deliver you a good design that has genuine functionality and beauty, but that’s a whole other debate).
When it comes to collaborative efforts there are many successful ones, but these generally reside in companies and designers with a symbiotic approach to product, echoing similar ambitions and with a similar sense of craft and making.
Yet these are collaborative ways of working to achieve a goal, rather than an endorsement as we understand it, and this is a different thing entirely. Here, where mainstream meets celebrity, I’m just not sure the two go hand-in-hand.
Tom Bourne is the creative director at furniture and furnishings industry-specialist PR agency, Select First.