Spitfire Strategies

Oh, Gwyneth…When Celebrity Spokespeople Go Bad

Beth Kanter

By Beth Kanter
Chief Strategy Officer

Too often, I’ve had clients say to me, “We just need to a celebrity to endorse our campaign.” Celebrities may draw attention – but they are not a silver bullet. In fact, a celebrity could draw the wrong kind of attention and might not even be the right messenger to help you reach your target audience.

Take, for example, everyone’s favorite dilettante celebrity, Gwyneth Paltrow. In addition to her Academy Award, Gwynnie has gained fame for Goop, her blog featuring ostentatiously expensive items like a holiday shopping guide that will set you back about $100,000 and sprinkled with gems such as her comment about how much harder she works than moms with 9-5 jobs. Has anyone figured out how to “consciously uncouple?”

Chef Mario Batali asked Gwyneth — his good friend and travel companion — to help bring attention to the struggles families face when trying to live on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) on behalf of the Food Bank of New York (Mario Batali sits on its board). Her task: limit her weekly grocery allowance to $29 a week.

The headlines universally read, “Gwyneth Paltrow takes SNAP challenge, fails miserably.”

Her purchases:
GP food
Yes, that’s seven limes that you see. These must be the ingredients for a kale-lime-cilantro juice cleanse, certainly not food to sustain someone for a week.

Note that she doesn’t have cheese in her cart. As she told a British talk show, “I’d rather smoke crack than eat cheese from a tin.”

This challenge drew a lot of headlines, but did it accomplish the Food Bank of New York’s objectives? While certainly a celebrity, was Gwyneth the best messenger?

This stunt brought attention to the issue for sure, but it left people talking about the wrong things. Instead of showcasing how incredibly difficult it is to get by with so little money to spend on food, the buzz is about what Gwyneth plans to make with all those limes. What should be a serious conversation about hunger and funding for SNAP has turned into another ritual Gwyneth mocking.

Before bringing in a celebrity endorser as a silver bullet, consider the following:

  • Does this celebrity have credibility on the issue? Does the issue directly impact his or her life? (Think Jennifer Garner, mom of three, lobbying on children’s issues;  George Takei, LGBTQ activist lobbying against Proposition 8)
  • Are there skeletons hiding in the closet or does the celebrity have a history that runs counter to the organization’s goals? (See Gwyneth’s tin cheese comment; Lena Dunham extolling the virtues of voting in an ad for Rock the Vote, but whoops, she didn’t cast a ballot in the prior election.)
  • Will the celebrity amplify your efforts or be a distraction that takes away from more effective tactics and/or messengers?  

Beth Kanter is an unabashed US Weekly reader.

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