Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cause celebrity: Aniston and bottled water

Since I live in the LA basin, my non-California colleagues (or recent arrivals) ask about how to attach a celebrity to their cause-brand-product, etc.

I usually defer these questions to my good friend Rita Tateel - who does this for a living through her highly successful The Celebrity Source company.

But if you live and work in LA, you need to keep track of this stuff. The hard questions for PR pros are:

  • Credibility: Does a celebrity really help your product or organization if consumers questions that celebrity's actual private commitment to your product or cause;

  • Impact: Will a celebrity really make a difference to your cause?

  • Trends: The public can be fickle. (see below).

Old school thinking: Consumers are getting more savvy about celebrities and causes. Consumers were generally skeptical of celebrities who appeared out of nowhere to support a cause.

New school: Celebrities have become more savvy, in part to Rita's coaching, I'm sure. It can't be a one-and-done appearance for a celebrity. They need to demonstrate a lengthy commitment to a cause.

RE: Trends. Celebrities have led the way in environmental causes. Toyota's newly introduced Prius took off after a Los Angeles PR firm successfully convinced about a dozen well-known actors to show up at the Academy Awards in the fuel efficient vehicle (instead of gas-guzzling limos) as a pledge to help the environment.

But are all celebrities linked to environmental causes?

Just as it shocks us to learn not all actors are Democrats, it shouldn't shock us when someone as famous as Jennifer Aniston promotes bottled water. Gasp!

The furor over bottled water is still there. But will it harm Jennifer? Will it cause other actors to abandon their bottles?

No, not for now.

Although Peter Gleick went after Aniston in a recent Huffington Post piece and Peter has a good track record of starting a battle that he can win (and he has his own book to promote), the bottled water industry is not going away.

The news media (and, presumably, Jennifer's fans), were much more interested in Jennifer's "abs" in the photo spreads for her Smart Water advertisements. (Just Google Jennifer and Water Smart and see what I mean).

Which reminds us that our interest in celebrities begins and ends with their...well, celebrity.

Sure, celebrities - in their off hours - can have an impact on a cause. The "Stand Up To Cancer" show this Friday is fueled by celebrities. George Clooney was honored at the Emmys for his charitable efforts.

But Madison Avenue can still win over the color of ribbon you wear on a jacket, or the wristband.

At least, as I said, for now.

It's a matter of the economy. In good economic times, the public will be more receptive to making decisions based on the environment and other factors related to corporate social responsibility. When the economy still sucks, the public will look at price - and, in the case of bottled water - a beautiful, athletic and well-toned actress.

My only advice to Jennifer, and the rest of the acting industry keeping the bottled water industry in business: Be ready for the mood shift. Have your plan ready to explain how you also are taking extra steps - far beyond what most humans do - to recycle those bottles.

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