I’m a celebrity – canny spin on an age old formula

Celebrity endorsements are nothing new. Indeed, they are in many respects as old as trade itself. Kings and queens once did the job now performed by modern day celebrities – from Hollyrood to Hollywood the value of a powerful endorsement has been invaluable.

The marketing cachet of a familiar face and a positive message has always been a winner.

However, in the modern day celebrity marketplace – where the appeal of an individual celebrity is contingent on the whim of a tabloid editor – tying a brand to a particular face can be a dangerous business. As several concerns have found to their cost, the wrong celebrity endorsement can sometimes go toxic overnight.

A safer formula

A safer, more reliable mode of endorsement is
exemplified – and brilliantly exploited – by TV formulas celebritysuch as I’m a Celebrity get Me Out of Here which instead of an individual personality makes the objectification of celebrity the focal point of endorsement. Irrespective of the personnel involved, the popularity of the programme represents the perfect hook for a high-profile marketing exercise. The trick is to make the contestants figures of fun – to objectify them at the same time that we get to know them as characters. I’m a Celebrity may be a box office hit – it is about to start its 15th annual series on ITV – but its audience figures are merely one strand of what constitutes a remarkable marketing success story.

I’m a Celebrity commercial tie ins include not only the highly visible programme sponsors (Aunt Bessies’ frozen food replaces Iceland for the current series), but also a raft of ties in with other leisure industry providers. The 32Red mobile casino, for example, boasts a slots game specifically branded as an I’m a Celebrity spin off. 32Red’s three-year tie in with the show is currently in its third year.

Mutual benefits

From the programme makers’ perspective such tie ins broaden their reach and cement the status of the programme as a ubiquitous, familiar and reliable presence throughout the year. Whilst the programme itself only runs in late autumn, such a permanent form of exposure enables the programme to never fall entirely out of the public consciousness.

From the perspective of a sponsor, the benefit of associating with a tried, tested and universally popular TV production allows them to share in the chain of positive associations and connotations which the programme generates. Within the leisure industry, being able to tap into and monetise such ‘feel-good’ emotions is a way to stay one step ahead of competitors such as fortunefrenzy and mobilecasino.com.

Imagined community

The desirability of celebrity endorsement rests on the imagined projection of a shared set of values and experience. It is a way to make being ‘one of us’ an inclusive and emotively powerful basis for a direct call to action. Academics talk in terms of imagined communities by which each member of the audience feels themselves to be part of a kind of family group, all sharing the same values and all eager to enjoy the same familiar rituals. The regular scheduling of the programme and its extended trailing are no more than the practical activations of this kind of audience-building process. And, of course, social media ramp this up to another level altogether.

And the corollary to that mobilization is that the mentions of the programme in non-TV domains is that a sizeable constituency is primed to react positively to marketing messages that pull on the original I’m a Celebrity identification. I’m a Celebrity’s audience has topped 16 million and routinely achieves a figure of around 13 million. That is a lot of people to sell to.

Celebrity objectification

The I’m a Celebrity brand has been applied to a theme park, boxed bush tucker trials and board games. And, of course, the advertising space that the programme justifies is worth millions of pounds, just as the interplay with the tabloid press itself spins off into countless other commercial revenue streams.

Part of the genius of I’m a Celebrity is that it fully captures the modern obsession with celebrity without surrendering its own brand to any one individual. It represents a thoroughly modern – objectified – spin on what is one of the oldest marketing techniques.