Every brand and company out there would obviously love to get a free endorsement from a celebrity. Many celebrities have millions of fans on social media and other forms of media who follow their every move (and post), and even a brief mention of your brand would most likely give a company a major boost in terms of brand awareness and popularity. It is important to mention, however, that free endorsements are not exactly commonplace, and may take a major investment in time, product cost, and follow-up with little if any reward. If you absolutely do not have the budget to pay for a celebrity endorsement, however, there are a few things that you can do to increase the likelihood of potentially getting a free endorsement from a celebrity. In this short article, we have put together a few methods and suggestions for how you might go about increasing the possibility that a celebrity may notice your brand and decide to give your brand free publicity to their millions of followers.
The (Obvious) Appeal of “Free” Celebrity Endorsements
With almost every celebrity using social media to communicate with their millions of fans, there is always the chance that a celebrity may one day unexpectedly decide to upload a picture wearing a clothing accessory that your brand recently released. Or perhaps your brand is involved in a major charity cause that coincides with the interests of a given celebrity, and he or she decides to give your brand a “shout-out” on social media, or take a picture with your brand at an event. For small and medium-sized brands, this type of unexpected celebrity endorsement and support might seem like a dream scenario.
One of the most obvious advantages of receiving natural, unsolicited celebrity endorsement is the price tag (or lack thereof). With some celebrities charging thousands of dollars for just one Instagram post mentioning your brand, free celebrity endorsement is certainly enticing for brands who have a tight marketing budget. Another advantage, however, is that these types of natural endorsements tend to be more authentic, as the celebrity chooses to support a brand on their own accord, and not because you´re simply paying a fee for their services. In a world where individual consumers are constantly bombarded by celebrity advertising, most people can tell when a celebrity endorsement is not exactly organic and authentic.
Getting a free celebrity endorsement might seem like an ideal marketing plan, especially for budget-strapped brands. However, it is important to mention that the only guaranteed way to get a celebrity endorsement is to pay them for their services. Just because you send a celebrity some free merchandise from your brand doesn’t offer any sort of guarantee that the celebrity will post about it or promote it. When you provide the celebrity a product for free, you shouldn’t expect a free endorsement as you are not paying them.
Furthermore, it needs to be noted that any “free” celebrity endorsement will never be technically free. As a small business owner or brand manager for a larger company, you will need to constantly check and track to see whether the celebrity is using the product you sent or promoting your brand via social media. This implies a major time investment in online research, outreach campaigns to stay in communication with the celebrity´s team and representation, and the actual time spent sending the product to the celebrities you have targeted. Not to mention, the actual cost of the product. All of these tasks will require time and energy on your part with essentially zero clarity on whether there will be any practical result. With a paid endorsement, on the other hand, you will have the guarantee that the celebrity will use/endorse your product, and this will free up your time and creative energy to find the best ways to utilize and exploit that marketing opportunity.
With a “free” endorsement, you may actually end up “paying” more in terms of time and energy expended in the entire process with the lingering possibility of no return. There is a fairly good chance that after researching different celebrities, doing responsible and respectful outreach with celebrity managers and publicists, and sending out free products, the celebrity never uses or endorses those products. In many cases, your brand’s products may not ever make it in front of the celebrity´s eyes.
To avoid this wasted time, it is important to note that free endorsements work much better when a celebrity is known to already regularly use a certain product or brand. For example, if a certain celebrity regularly uses a certain brand of clothing (without a paid endorsement in place), then that brand can obviously “latch on” to that good luck to promote their brand without having to actually pay for the celebrity. If a celebrity is not already a fan or frequent user of a certain brand or product, then you are going to be facing an uphill battle to get any sort of free endorsement.
Find an Existing Fan of Your Brand
If a celebrity already has an affinity for your brand, you’re halfway to securing a free endorsement from them. As we mentioned above, when a celebrity has a natural affinity for your brand, there is an improved chance that any potential social media mention of your brand will be perceived as authentic and genuine by the public.
When you identify a celebrity fan of your brand, the first thing you should do is reach out to their manager or publicist and offer to send them a free product for their client. If you send a free product or merchandise, however, it is not a good idea to mention that you are “hoping” for a free endorsement. This will usually come off negatively, especially since most celebrities probably receive dozens of requests for free publicity and endorsements every week. Rather, simply mention that you saw the celebrity using the product, and you wanted to send them some of the product for free.
But if you want to be sure you get something in return for sending the product, it’s always best to explain what you’re thinking.
And make no mistake, this method works. The clothing brand Joyrich saw on Instagram that Trill Sammy was already a fan of the brand, so they sent him some free product. Sure enough, he posted the brand on his Instagram. Another example is Uber- they often offer free ride credits to celebrities in return for social media posts about the brand.
Before sending out dozens of products to a list of 30-40 celebrities, it is important to “do your homework” on the celebrities you are planning to “target” with free gifts and merchandise. Have you seen the celebrity wearing or using your brand in the past? Have you seen them using similar products from your competitors? Do you think that your brand’s products fit with the image and style of the celebrity? By identifying celebrities who already show a natural tendency towards using products that your brand sells, there is a greater chance that those free products will actually get into the hands of the celebrity and used or promoted. Furthermore, it is important to note that you might consider sending free merchandise to up and coming celebrities, while paying larger A-list celebrities for their endorsement.
Los Angeles-based clothing brand Popular Demand has done this very effectively, reaching out to artists’ managers and publicists and inviting them and their clients to their warehouse to pick out some clothes for themselves (for free, of course).
This method requires a little more research (and a bit more luck)- it’s most effective when you can identify an up-and-coming artist to try your product rather than a firmly-established celebrity (since already well-known celebrities may not want to take time out to try your product for free) . Popular Demand has effectively targeted up-and-comers like Sage the Gemini; this allowed them to establish a relationship early on and build affinity and trust between the artist and the brand. And as a result, those artists have ended up wearing their products in photo shoots and music videos, so Popular Demand spent nothing more than the cost of the wholesale materials for a boatload of free advertising and celebrity endorsements.
Use Your Brand to Solve a Celebrity’s Problem
The best celebrities to target are the ones who are active on social media. For example, it is well known that the actress Emma Stone does not actively participate on social media. While you could potentially target her for an advertising campaign on traditional media, it probably would not be a good idea to send her free merchandise hoping to get an Instagram mention on her “non-existent” Instagram account.
By monitoring celebrities’ social media accounts, you can get an idea of their “pain points”; do this often enough, and you’ll come across a celebrity expressing frustration about a problem that – guess what? – you can solve with your product. From there, it’s just a matter of contacting the right people on their team and offering to help them out of their predicament.
A great example of this is Lyft’s work with Kendall Jenner. One day, Kim Kardashian tweeted that she had to drive Kendall around all day because Kendall was banned from Uber. Uber’s response on Twitter was a request for Kim to send them a DM to discuss the issue (which is a terrible response in its own right, since nobody wants to go back and forth with a customer service rep over Twitter). Meanwhile, Lyft quietly swooped in and, using their product, actually solved Kendall and Kim’s problem.
The result was a ringing endorsement from Kendall on Twitter and Snapchat, and it effectively demonstrated that Uber wasn’t the only game in town. Best of all, this promotion didn’t cost Lyft anything- in fact, they actually made money on Kendall’s fare, and then received a massive amount of free, positive publicity for their work.
In all of these cases, brands did their research, waited for the right time to present themselves, and were able to effectively address a celebrity’s needs or wants. While the traditional route of offering a celebrity money to promote your product is still effective, not every brand can afford to pay for celebrity endorsements. Instead, by going the extra mile for the celebrities they were targeting, they ended up with free promotion. And best of all, it was organic- rather than a simple billboard or product placement, the fans of the celebrities got the impression that the celebrity really did love the product and are therefore more likely to actually use it. All of this adds up to a huge win for any brand.