Destination branding: the celebrity effect

Luxury goods companies pay celebrities big bucks to endorse their products. In the world of A-listers you’re no one until you’ve been the official face, arm or bust of an international brand.

The same applies to the tourism sector. There’s nothing like a celeb to add sparkle to a destination or travel company’s image.

The right celebrity can do wonders for a brand, but it’s important to choose someone who fits the image. For example, a celebrity such as Kerry Katona wouldn’t be the right person to promote the luxury Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts brand.

One way to harness celebrity magic is to let the star experience the product and then write an article.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts area director PR Amalie Craig said: “We don’t have vast marketing budgets and so aren’t in a position to pay for A-listers to come and stay at our properties. Instead we work on a partnership basis, providing accommodation for an article.”

If the relationship is right, there’s plenty to be gained. But it’s not always plain sailing. Working with celebrities can be time-intensive. And if they’re not great writers then the article is often ghost written, which puts the whole point of a first-person experience into question.

“Celebrities tend to be fairly high maintenance,” said Travel PR founder Sue Ockwell. “There’s also the chance the article might never appear, in which case you will have spent a lot of money to no avail.” Damage limitation is also much harder with a celebrity so a bad travel experience carries greater risk.

However, most celebs will be grateful for the hospitality and honour the arrangements made. Cosmos sent Ulrika Jonsson and her son to South Africa to write a piece for the News of the World last year.

“She didn’t ask for any special treatment,” said commercial manager Sara Gelder. “She thanked us all the way and even sent us  flowers when she came back.”

While celebrity travel articles are here to stay, the professional travel journalist’s job also seems safe. “A celebrity will never appeal to every member of your audience,” said Four Communications head of travel PR Liz Griffiths.

“They can just as easily repel as attract customers. Journalists are independent and therefore more credible with certain target markets.” That’s a relief.

Case study: Isabella Rossellini and Silversea Cruises

Isabella Rossellini has worked with Silversea Cruises since 2004.

“Ms Rossellini’s international reputation as a classic beauty and famous actress links up well with the company’s branding and image. And her profile always generates interest from the media,” said Silversea public relations manager Laura Richardson.
In her role as ambassador Rossellini makes public appearances, takes Silversea cruises, has a suite aboard each ship named after her and does photo shoots that are used in the company’s global advertising campaigns (pictured above).

Celebrity advertising campaigns

  • Julianne Moore and Robert De Niro star in New York’s Just Ask the Locals campaign.
  • Uma Thurman, Kate Moss and Pamela Anderson will soon burst onto our screens in a string of adverts for Virgin Atlantic.
  • Kylie Minogue was the long-term face of Eurostar.

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