Stars Bring Unknown Risk to Endorsement

Article excerpt

Hugh Grant's career wasn't the only thing that might have been blown by his tryst with Divine Brown last week. The incident also cast doubt over girlfriend Elizabeth Hurley's [pounds]1m contract to advertise Estee Lauder.

Hurley's unlucky brush with the seedier side of life falls into the 'unexpected' category of fallen stars. Pepsi should have known better than use Madonna, but Estee Lauder must have thought it was onto a sure thing when it picked one half of the UK's most glamorous couple.

A company spokeswoman refused to comment on the fallout of Grant's dangerous liaison, but rumours are that Hurley has been ordered not to appear with him in public. Estee Lauder will only say that all events featuring Hurley are "going ahead as planned".

Madonna and child

Over the past few years, there have been many examples of the risks attendant to using a celebrity in advertising. Pepsi got its fingers burnt not only with Madonna but, more spectacularly, with Michael Jackson. The softdrinks giant pulled the plug on Jackson after allegations of child abuse led the singer to cancel his world tour. Madonna's alleged sin was blasphemy and Pepsi bowed to pressure groups condemning its relationship with the singer.

More recently, Nike executives could be seen heads in hands at Eric Cantona's acrobatics as he tried to give an opposing fan a close-up view of their boot logo.

"There are two types of risks with using celebrities," says Chris Cowpe, joint managing director of BMP DDB Needham. "You can assess the problems of using a Madonna or a Cantona but what has happened to Hurley was completely unpredictable."

Whether or not a fall from grace damages a brand depends on current morality. Pepsi dropped Michael Jackson during the child abuse furore, despite the fact that nothing was proved, but made the decision to stick by Magic Johnson when he revealed he was HIV positive. And Nike's advertising agency, Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson, meanwhile, claims the Cantona episode actually did the brand some good. …