February 9, 2024

A brand Travisty in the making

What are marketers missing when it comes to celebrity endorsements?

In the bustling marketplace of brand endorsements, where uniqueness and differentiation are the currency of value, one name seems to echo across the boardrooms of America with uncanny ubiquity: Travis Kelce. Yes, the Kansas City Chiefs tight end, whose charismatic appeal and on-field prowess have made him the darling of Swifties and brand managers from coast to coast. But as more brands hitch their wagon to Kelce’s star, you have to wonder: in the quest for something different, how have we all ended up in Kansas City?

It probably starts innocently enough—”Let’s get Travis Kelce as our brand ambassador!” But in a quick Google search you’ll find, just as we did, that Kelce’s dance card isn’t just full; it’s a veritable who’s who of American commerce. From sports drinks to home improvement giants, from tech upstarts to the titans of fast food, Kelce has lent his image to an eclectic mix of brands, each seeking to carve out its unique space in the consumer consciousness.

The list of brands is growing by the day.

  1. Bud Light, because what’s game day without it?
  2. Nike, so you’re as stylish as your famous girlfriend
  3. Pfizer, keeping you vaccinated and ready to play
  4. DirecTV, ensuring you never miss a game.
  5. Accelerator Active Energy, to help you push into the end-zone
  6. Tide, keeping those game day jerseys spotless.
  7. Old Spice, because you’ve got to smell fresh in the stands.
  8. T-Mobile, connecting calls like Kelce connects with passes.
  9. Sleep Number, for that restful post-game sleep.
  10. Hy-Vee, for all your gameday grocery needs.
  11. Dick’s Sporting Goods, equipping the athlete in you.
  12. State Farm, ensuring you’re covered for every fumble.
  13. Subway, sandwiching Kelce between subs and cookies.
  14. Lowe’s, when you need to take over the game and DIY
  15. Campbell’s Chunky, for those cold, cold Kansas City nights
  16. Experian, to keep track of all those paychecks!

Folks, this is NOT normal.

While many celebrities have a dozen or so endorsements over the course of their careers, none seem to have ever had so many in the same calendar year. Take a look at the below chart. Kelce is far and away the most over-exposed celebrity endorsement we may have ever seen, relative to a single calendar year.

The irony is thicker than a Campbell’s Chunky Soup in a snowstorm. In the collective rush towards Kelce, brands might be inadvertently blending in like a Taylor Swift fan at Arrowhead, rather than standing out in the way they hoped they would.

So, what’s a brand to do when the face of their campaign can just as easily be spotted grinning from a competitor’s billboard? The answer might lie in the very essence of branding itself—your storytelling.

You shouldn’t be concepting your message around whether or not you have Kelce on your roster; you should be trying to weave a narrative so compelling, and so uniquely intertwined with your brand’s identity, that the chosen spokesperson is an extension of that message—not you hopping on their bandwagon, and thus diluting your own.

And if you find Travis Kelce’s gaining yardage in your boardroom, the real challenge clearly is not securing his nod, but in making such a partnership feel as one-of-a-kind as your brand claims to be. After all, in the crowded marketplace of today, the brands that truly stand out are those that understand not just to whom to tell their story, but how to make it resonate uniquely in the hearts and minds of their audience.

So, as we navigate this sea of endorsements, maybe it’s time not to ask whether Travis Kelce is the right spokesperson for our brand, rather how we can tell our brand’s story in a way that, even if Kelce is the face of it, feels like he could only ever be telling our story, and no one else’s.

A better way to go down field

We’re not saying don’t ever use celebrities. They are often a viable avenue to achieve the kind of cultural relevance brands strive for. But there is the other side of the coin to consider: authentic differentiation.

Before jumping on the celebrity endorsement bandwagon, it’s crucial to pause and consider your unique position and strategy in the market. If you don’t think you actually have one (and you probably don’t because our research shows only 30% of brands actually mean something to consumers and only 5% of brands are viewed as distinctive from the competition), the perfect time to develop it is before you start writing big checks to celebs who deliver short-term eyeballs, but little more. This requires a deep dive into the essence of your brand to ensure that your marketing efforts enhance rather than dilute your identity.

Here are three things to remember as you start your journey.

01 | Get your story straight

Identify what sets you apart from competitors, what customers want, and how your unique brand story can square the circle. This means not just what you stand for, your essence, your purpose, but also your commitments to maintaining differentiation. Consider the key characteristics and values that define your brand. How can these be highlighted in your marketing strategy?

02 | Character counts

Your brand character and voice should reflect its personality and resonate with your target audience. Are you a funny brand? A serious one? Whimsical? Soft and supportive? How do you flex this voice across communication intents? How do you make it distinct and consistent across all channels? Only then can you ask if someone alive today should embody this voice.

03 | Choose wisely

Finally, ensure that any spokesperson or partnership aligns with and amplifies your story and voice, rather than detracting from it. The selection of an ambassador should be a strategic decision that reinforces your brand’s overall goals and inherent meaning. Consider how their endorsement can bring a unique dimension to your brand strategy, reinforcing your market position, promises, voice, and story. And select someone whose communication style, tone, and public presence amplify your brand, ensuring consistency and authenticity in your messaging.

Remember, in the world of branding, authentic differentiation and cultural relevance are key to creating lasting impressions that foster loyalty. And they are also key to avoiding a Travisty.