What is an Endorsement in Advertising?

The Ups and Downs of Testimonials and Celebrity

Tiger Woods Nike
Tiger Woods Nike. Getty Images

There have been hundreds of thousands of examples of endorsement advertising over the last hundred years. From athletes and movie stars, to doctors and mechanics, endorsements are a major part of the advertising and PR industries. And with good reason.

When a product or service chooses to align itself with someone famous, or an expert in their field, they are taking a shortcut to recognition, good will, and credibility.

For instance, you may never have given a second thought to a certain brand of cereal, or toothpaste, or 4-cylinder AWD car. But when someone you know comes out and says you should buy it, it's on your radar. 

In other words, endorsements are an easy way for a brand to attach themselves to the positive (or negative, if the brand has an angle on it) feelings associated with a celebrity or industry professional. But before exploring the ways in which endorsements are utilized, let's look at the definition. 
 

Basic Definition

In laymen's terms, endorsements are a specific type of advertising that employs a celebrity or other professional to say good things about the product or service. In effect, that person is lending his or her name, and the equity that comes with it, to the brand. 
 

Types of Endorsement 

There are different types of endorsements, mostly paid (but sometimes free, especially for charity), that brands have available to them.

 

  • Using the Product of Service
    This is perhaps the most common in sports and fashions. For example, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan are paid millions of dollars to be seen wearing Nike shoes. Medical brands will pay esteemed physicians, dentists, doctors and other medical professionals to tell the world that they use a specific product. In all cases, the advertiser will work with PR firms to make sure the endorsement is seen by millions of people.
     
  • Speaking on Behalf of the Brand (aka Testimonials)
    Appearing in ads for a product or service is another popular way for brands to use endorsements. Many major celebrities do this to earn millions of additional dollars every year (think Michael Jackson for Pepsi, or Christopher Walken for Kia) although most opt to endorse products that are not seen in this country. Arnold Schwarzenegger has endorsed a variety of Japanese products. 
     
  • Unpaid Testimonials
    Advertisers have the choice of paying someone to write or say something that can endorse the brand, but it's even better when that testimonial is completely free. This can happen in a few ways. A famous blogger, YouTuber, professional, or celebrity, can say something great about the brand. A famous example of this comes from England, and the TV chef Delia Smith. If she used a certain kind of cooking utensil on the show, sales for that particular model shot up ten-fold the following day. If a blogger gives a restaurant or salon a glowing review, it can see its business boom. 
     
  • "Fake" Endorsements
    This is not to imply anything illegal going on. It is simply referring to the kinds of endorsements that come from actors who are "paid spokespersons." They appear as families explaining how wonderful the product is, or are "medical professionals" wearing white coats talking about the great product or service on offer. They have to be identified as actors in these commercials, even if they are speaking the words of a real family or doctor, and therefore the power of this kind of endorsement is much weaker than the other three. Very few people watch an ad featuring an actor and think the product will be as good as it's stated. 
     

    The Dangers of Endorsement Deals

    Endorsements tie two brands together. One brand being an actual product or service, and the other being a personal brand, from a movie or TV star, musician, or industry professional. And once those two are tied together, things can get messy if anything goes wrong with either brand. 

    • Danger To The Brand
      Should anything negative happen to the person endorsing the brand, the brand itself can be put in a bind very quickly. You only have to look at the issues that Tiger Woods created for the brand he endorsed. The same applied to Kobe Bryant, Jared Fogle, and Michael Jackson. In these instances, a crack PR and legal team is needed to stop the bleeding immediately. 
    • Danger To The Endorser
      Similarly, should a brand come under fire for doing something wrong, the famous person endorsing it can become tarnished quickly, unless they move fast to remove themselves from the relationship. If it is discovered a company is using sweatshops, engaging in false advertising, or is flat out breaking the law, that could easily tarnish the reputation of the endorser. 
       

      Is Product Placement an Endorsement?

      The jury is out on that one. Some maintain that true endorsements are overt, and involve a statement advocating the product or service. So, "Hi, I'm [name] and I love using brand XYZ" is a typical endorsement example. 

      Of course, things don't always work like that. If a celebrity is simply seen out and about wearing a certain type of watch, or driving a specific car, and is photographed by the media, then that is also an endorsement, whether it's paid or not. 

      Then there's product placement. It's not quite the same, but it can be said that a brand is endorsing a movie, and vice versa, if the two are linked in a product placement deal. Was Ford endorsing James Bond when it appeared in Casino Royale? Was the Bond franchise endorsing Ford? In both cases, you can say that the equity of both brands was used to create a statement. However, it is not a typical endorsement in the truest sense of the term.