Celebrity + Brand, Beyond the Creative Director

When I first heard the phrase “Celebrity Creative Director” my mind immediately thought of Bill Bernbach and David Ogilvy –the Creative Directors I studied in the classrooms at School of Visual Arts. There are also the “Celebrity Creative Directors” I’ve been following since leaving school – Lee Clow, Dan Weiden & David Kennedy, Jeff Goodby & Rich Silverstein. And since then, I’ve watched the rise of others like Alex Bogusky and Gerry Graf. These are the “Celebrity CDs” me and so many of my colleagues have come to admire and emulate.

Today, “Celebrity Creative Director” has taken on a whole new meaning, actual celebrities – movie stars, musicians, athletes and artists – are now asking for creative roles in marketing campaigns. These are the same celebrities we’ve been asking our clients to fork over truckloads of money to so they can endorse the brands we work on. Multimillion-dollar media placements have brought these same celebrities notoriety and PR. They owe us, right? Now they want to take our jobs? Well, not really.

The marriage between brands and celebrities dates back to the beginning of advertising. Our reasons for recommending celebrities to make endorsements are usually all very rational. The influence they can have on a brand is tremendous. The Hollywood Reporter recently reported that celebrity’s involvement in social media promotions are 98% effective. We have spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours designing entire campaigns around a celebrity’s image. We’ve carefully crafted the words we think should come out of their mouths so their voice can connect with the audience. Why would they be interested in creating that content themselves? Write the ads they appear in? Leave that to us, right?

Today, every angle of a celebrity’s life is exposed. TMZ has made it all very easy for us to find out everything we ever wanted to know about celebrities and more. Celebrities have agents, managers, stylists all helping them create their personal brand and image. They help celebrities choose what movies to appear in, what talk shows to show up on, what they should wear to the Oscars. Those same agents are also the gatekeepers to what endorsements they should entertain.

Staying authentic to the celebrities’ image is job #1. What could be more authentic to the celebrity than if the celebrity themselves took part in the creation of the idea? Or as McConaughey said as only he can, “I want to have my hands in the clay of how we tell the story, and I want to be part of the whole story, not just a character in it.” He might seem like and extreme case now, but celebrities being part of the creative process isn’t a completely new idea. Spike Lee was one of the pioneers when he helped introduce Mars Blackmon to Michael Jordan. I’m also pretty sure when Jim Gaffigan or Jerry Seinfeld appears in a car commercial, they weren’t scripted by a copywriter.

What celebrities fear most about brand endorsements is coming across as a shill. If they are willing to jump in with the team and “shape the clay,” I’m all for it. What the new “Celebrity Creative Director” will do is bring a level of honesty, authenticity and genuineness that we can’t create without their full collaboration.

So, do not fear the new “Celebrity Creative Director.” Our clients still need their agency creative directors. Mathew McConaughey probably isn’t looking for a gig sitting in research looking for ways to make the logo “pop”. And Alicia Keyes won’t be agonizing over fonts as she redesigns a brand website. They also won’t be hanging around when it’s time to come up with the next big idea for the brand that might not include them.

Celebrities are not the long-term partners our clients want and need to help them manage every aspect of the creative product for their brand. The more we learn to collaborate with others, the more we can improve the creative product itself. Bringing a little honesty to our business is something we should always welcome.


This article originally appeared on Advertising Week