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The do's and don'ts of marketing celebrity brands

The do's and don'ts of marketing celebrity brands Becca Bleznak
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It may seem full-proof to use a celebrity to market your product, and it's been done for many years. However, some stars choose to take things a step further, and have founded their own brands. With pending lawsuits and backlash for all, it may seem as though these were poor choices on the part of the name in question. But there's something to be learned, both good and bad, from any business venture.

Jessica Alba's The Honest Company

It's all in the name… or is it? When renowned actress Jessica Alba founded The Honest Company in 2011, her mission was to sell better products to mothers. Having recently become a mom herself, Alba was concerned with creating eco-friendly, sustainable, healthy items that parents would feel comfortable giving to their children. It was a great idea, and launched at a time when toxic chemicals and natural resources were becoming more hot-button terms.

Unfortunately, the company has struggled with maintaining its honest name. After a booming start, a number of pending lawsuits have hurt its reputation, though have not significantly tarnished sales. Though currently busy with its legal troubles, the brand was recently named a member of Organic Trade Association -- a strategic move to improve its standing with the public. And while an IPO is in its future, The Honest Co.'s financial success has allowed it to take its time becoming a publicly-traded company

Do:

  • Have a personal cause or stake. It would seem that much of The Honest Co.'s success is rooted in its mission. Like Toms Shoes -- and other charitable brands -- before it, few can argue that selling sustainable goods and donating to those less fortunate will favor well with consumers.
  • Start small. While the brand has grown immensely, it began with only 17 baby products. Now, in addition to items for children, the company has added the Honest Beauty brand, featuring skin care and makeup collections. Rather than launching with a huge inventory, the brand was able to grow as popularity increased.
  • Partner up. While Alba's name and face are used to sell her brand, she didn't enter into this alone. Teaming up with experienced business partners, they leveraged her star power, while handling the work behind-the-scenes. This one is a no-brainer -- creating a brand is not a one-person job, and having experienced and well-connected partners is essential to success.

Don't:

  • Ignore customer complaints. In the wake of a crisis, it can be hard to know how to approach the public. The Honest Co. has responded in various ways to its numerous lawsuits, but have primarily stuck behind its products. While business continues to boom, many have taken to comments sections and social media to express their outrage. Time will tell if this hurts the brand's image in the long run.
  • Make promises you can't keep. Many of the claims regarding The Honest Co.'s products revolve around the guarantees made on the site -- namely, that items will not contain certain chemicals. While the details have been disputed, it seems as though the brand was not completely honest about what is in some of its products. Though intentions may be good, follow this rule of thumb: If you can't 100 percent guarantee it, don't say it.

Kate Hudson's Fabletics

Founded in 2013, the brand of athletic wear featuring the face of actress Kate Hudson has faced a number of challenges. Here's the concept: Shoppers take a quiz, and then styles are chosen for them from the clothing catalog. It can be that simple, however, the point of the site is to sign-up for VIP membership. VIPs get a significant discount on their initial purchase, and then pay a fee each month and receive half-off pricing.

Under the umbrella of JustFab, this business model has many shaking their heads: The founders of the company have been under scrutiny for their less-than-honest business practices for some time, and there is no shortage of customer complaints online. However, subscription-based services are gaining popularity, and Fabletics has jumped on a train that shows no signs of stopping.

Do:

  • Create a product around a celebrity's natural image. Hudson is known for her enviable figure, and has a huge social media presence. She also frequently discusses her health habits -- specifically her love of Pilates -- so being the face of an athletic-wear brand is a no-brainer. The tie-ins to all discussions involving diet and exercise are endless, and her Instagram followers can finally learn the answer to the frequently-Googled question: "How do I get Kate Hudson's body?"

Don't:

  • Rule out brick-and-mortar. Despite its beginnings and the parent company's strictly-online model, Fabletics has recently branched out to shopping mall near you. With plans for up to 100 stores over the next several years, the future looks good for the brand. With mobile discussions everywhere you look, it's important to understand that many shoppers still want the option to purchase in store.
  • Jack up prices because of the name attached. Adam Goldenberg, co-CEO and cofounder of JustFab, recently told Forbes "We [Fabletics stores] do very, very well when we're located near a Lululemon or Athleta." This is likely due to the lower retail price of Fabletics which, despite having a celebrity face tied to it, provides shoppers with a more affordable option than its high-end competitors. Never forget that price is important.

Despite now being an award-winning actress, Reese Witherspoon wants to remind you that she's still a southern girl through and through. Last year's launch of lifestyle and clothing brand Draper James did just that. Everything about the brand is wholesome -- even its name, which comes from her paternal grandparents, who she calls "the greatest influences in [her] life." Products consist of clothing, accessories, and home decor, much of which is frequently modeled by Witherspoon herself, both on social media and in her offline-life.

Despite its air of preppy perfection, the operation hasn't been without issues. A few months ago, Draper James was slapped with a $5 million lawsuit from a jewelry designer, claiming that the brand ripped off a piece she had designed and used it as a logo. At the time of this article's publication, nothing had been said about the lawsuit since March, so perhaps they settled out of count. Nevertheless, Draper James has continued to press on, drawing comparisons to Tory Burch while venturing into the content creation world…

Do:

  • Create more content. What goes well with apparel and home goods? A guide for how best to use these items, which is exactly what the Draper James blog comes is. Posts include southern recipes, style tips, party suggestions, holiday highlights, and a lot more. Everything of course embodies the southern feel, while subtly promoting the brand's products. Finding the sweet spot of content marketing and e-commerce can be difficult, but when done correctly, brings big results.
  • Consider channels that aren't obvious. Early this year, the brand launched its Draper James YouTube channel. While really just an expansion of the blog, the channel allows for behind-the-scenes content, and even promotes a music vertical of the brand, which seems to be in its early stages. A lot of celebrities are creating YouTube channels now, and Witherspoon is using hers to both promote herself as a brand and her company, which tie together nicely. It helps that her public image is (fairly) squeaky-clean, but that's just her thing. And it works.

Don't:

  • Miss out on local opportunities. Like The Honest Co., Draper James is looking to give back to the community, specifically in Witherspoon's hometown of Nashville. In addition to the brick-and-mortar store there, the brand is working with the local YWCA to boost literacy rates for girls in the area. Of course, this is all brand-aligned: Reese has long supported organizations aimed at helping women and children, and the Draper James site itself mentions Girls Inc., a well-known charity that aids young women. A hyper-local focus takes charity one step further, and shows that even a big star can still get back to her roots.

Becca is currently an editor at iMedia Connection, as well as a freelance entertainment writer for ScreenPicks.com and The Televixen. In the past, she has worked as a social media/community manager at SEO Savvy, Empower Digital, and Mahalo. ...

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