Does a celebrity endorsement trump product quality?

by Jason Zanatta

This spring, H&M announced a partnership for its summer campaign with global superstar Beyoncé. The entertainer will appear in television and print ads featuring pieces from the trendy retailer’s summer collection.  The print and outdoor billboards introduce “Beyoncé as Mrs. Carter in H&M,” strategically aligned with the Mrs. Carter Show World Tour, which kicked off in April.

A news release quotes Beyoncé on why she teamed up with the international retail chain: “I’ve always liked H&M’s focus on fun and affordable fashion. I really loved the concept we collaborated on to explore the different emotions of women represented by the four elements – fire, water, earth and wind.”

Sounds like a match made in heaven. H&M’s courtship with David Beckham, who models their body wear line, has been going strong for more than a year now. Clearly, celebrities recognize that their personal brands are worth a lot of money to retailers.

The trend of famous names going steady with fashion brands has moved to home goods in recent years. Supermodels such as Brooke Shields (for La-Z-Boy) and Cindy Crawford  (her line is called Home) have found ways to extend their careers off the glossy pages of magazines through endorsement and brand launches.

While these unions can be mutually beneficial, a home textiles manufacturer is at the mercy of their appointed spokesperson’s personal life. If a celebrity’s fame isn’t maintained, or if scandal strikes, what happens to the value of a particular line or product? Soon after Lance Armstrong confessed of doping to Oprah, his partnerships vanished. One of them was with Nike, a brand with a history of dropping well-known athletes gone bad, most recently Oscar Pistorius.

Consider as well the ongoing legal battles between Martha Stewart Housewares, JC Penney and Macy’s. This controversy, based on which retailer gets exclusives to which of Martha’s varied product line, has cost all parties thousands in legal fees, resulted in negative PR for the brands, and most importantly, has frustrated customers.

Unexpected factors can tarnish a manufacturer as well.  Joe Fresh, a popular and inexpensive clothing line sold at Loblaw’s stores throughout Canada and select U.S. retailers, has recently come under scrutiny after a Bangladesh-based factory collapsed killing more than a thousand garment workers. By default, the fashion designer, Joseph Mimran, is now also tied to the ongoing controversy on whether more could have been done to prevent the tragedy.

Celebritydom includes those successful in business, such as Donald Trump and his home line that includes, in one way or another, his two children; and England’s beloved casual chef Jamie Oliver, who has a modern cookware line, not to mention a slew of pasta houses.

While celebrity endorsements can spark instant brand awareness, it’s difficult to estimate whether the gains are for the short or long term. It’s up to manufacturers and retailers to understand and know what their customers want most: are their purchases based on a popular name, or the quality of a product? Compare H&M, known for its inexpensive and fresh-off-the-runaway looks (required for one season only) and a chair from La-Z-Boy, a significant investment expected to last for years.

©Novo Textiles co 2014