Funke Akindele, COVID-19 And The Intrigues Of Celebrity Endorsement

Funke Akindele, COVID-19 And The Intrigues Of Celebrity Endorsement

The global jailer is symbolized in the Coronavirus. The pandemic takes all and leaves  no one. The disease globally tagged the novel virus is no respecter of any indices – colour, age, geographical boundaries or even economic status. There are a variety of prisons into which it clad people. For some, the sentence is isolation. For others, quarantine is their punishment. And some have even gone to the great beyond. Their crime has always been a contact with the virus. The latest victim is Funke Akindele-Bello. She was caught violating the law of lockdown and the law had come down heavily on the Nollywood star and her husband. The focus of this piece is to examine the pros and cons of the whole scenario and piece together important lessons for celebrities, brands and other organizations that might want to benefit from celeb popularity to promote either their brands or a social cause.

Celebrity Endorsement/Role Modelling: the accrued benefits, the risks involved

Celebrities are people who enjoy specific public recognition by a large number of certain groups of people. They have some characteristic attributes like attractiveness, extraordinary lifestyle or special skills that are not commonly observed. They could be individuals or characters who are known to a large portion of the general population primarily because of the publicity associated with their lives. There are very good examples in football, music, movies and other genres of entertainment. With the kind of public attention they attract to themselves, celebrities are considered a major force in society who could influence and control behaviour. For this characteristic, they are usually the best bet to endorse a brand or role model certain behaviour in society.

Celebrity endorsement is a kind of contract that exists between a celebrity and a brand to promote products of such brand. If the contract involves encouraging a particular behaviour for change, then we have role modelling. Simply put, when a celebrity endorses a brand or is portrayed as using the brand, such celebrity has become a celebrity endorser. On the other hand, when a star models a behaviour towards encouraging their followers, fans and admirers to also engage in such behaviour, then we have role models. Celebrity endorsement happens when the main motive is commercial while the role modelling focuses on social behaviour and change. However, there is a thin line between the two. Sometimes, the line could be as clear as the morning sky. And sometimes in between. For example, when a company engages a celebrity to endorse its products, this has some direct effect on the company’s bottomline. On the other hand, when such a company contracts a celebrity to role model certain behaviour, say COVID 19 preventive measures, then it is pursuing a social cause expected to have implication on its social standing and portraying such company as a socially responsible organization.

Every company that signs up celebs in endorsement deals does that on the TEARS basis. Broken down, this translates into the following variables. Trustworthiness entails honesty, integrity and believability of an endorser. Expertise refers to the level of perceived celebrity expertise. Attractiveness captures physical look, personality, properties, attractive lifestyle. Respect refers to the quality of being admired or esteemed due to the endorser’s overall accomplishments. While similarity represents the extent to which an endorser matches the target audience on characteristics related to the endorsement relationship. This in marketing terms is celebrity/product fit.

What then are the benefits of celebrity endorsement and role modelling? There are a number of benefits attached to the deployment of endorsement and role modelling. Research has revealed that  endorsement contributes to bottom line objectives of the companies who use them. Not only that, it enables clear messaging amidst media clutter. Fans and followers would like to see their loved stars and their attention would be got through that. Then, endorsement aids recall and recognition of the brand or product. Most importantly, endorsement has been found to be effective for consumer behaviour and purchase intention. It is even found that it could change behaviour.

Despite the benefits of celebrity endorsement, there are risks associated with the practice. A number of demerits of celebrity endorsement have been identified. One, celebrities risk fame fluctuation which seems to be a common feature that dog celebrities worldwide. So, when a celebrity endorser’s fame fluctuates, it has a backlash on the brand promoted. The misbehaviour aspect accommodates negating the essence of the product or behaviour they are paid to model. Also, there is a tendency for people to question the credibility of a celebrity endorsed brand because they perceive the celebrity endorser has been paid. In the same vein, celebrities do multiple endorsements thereby creating confusion.

Funke Akindele-Bello in the Celebrity Endorsement/Role Modelling Loop

Funke Akindele-Bello is a celebrity by all standards. She is a Nollywood star who is married  to another musician, AbdulRasheed Bello, popularly known as JJ Skilzz. She is known for movies that have wide following on national television. Movies such as Jenifa, Jenifa’s Diary  and its other series made Funke Akindele-Bello a darling to her fans. With a combination of 11.4 million followers on Twitter and Instagram respectively, she is one of the most sought after Nollywood actresses in Nigeria and beyond. She has  multiple awards to her credits.

She has a high TEARS rating. Her trustworthiness, expertise, attractiveness, respect and similarity has made her in the past to be involved with Lagos state government campaigning for a cleaner Lagos. Her TEARS rating might also have influenced her relationship with Dettol as a brand. Having been signed on as the face of the brand on April 16, 2019 at a colourful event tagged “the Clean Naija Initiative Official Launch in Lagos.

She modelled the COVID 19 protective messaging spread on satellite television and social media on behalf of Dettol. However, one of the risks of celebrity endorsement came to play when she organized a birthday bash for her hubby. JJC Skillz uploaded the photos on social media and all hell was let loose. Nigerians were on her neck because she contradicted the essence of her campaign on television. Both the brand she represents and the National Centre for Disease Control have denied her involvement with them on the fight against COVID 19. She was charged to court and convicted as she pleaded guilty.

The entire scenario would make a good case study for marketing communication professionals and researchers. Brands only want the positive feedback on celebrities that represent them. One of the greatest risks of investing in celebrities is the tendency to court scandals and misbehave. Brands would always want to leverage on successful celebrities to generate positive brand association and impact on bottom line objectives. Rising stars are enjoined to pay attention to their fame and reputation so that brands could stay with them for long. A moment of indiscretion led Funke Akindele Bello into trouble. After serving out her terms of two weeks’ community service, the fight to get herself unhooked as an ex-convict begins. She still has the opportunity to appeal the judgement or even seek Lagos state pardon. However, in years to come, the Internet of Things would keep her days in both the court of public opinion and court of law fresh in the public sphere.

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