Celebrity, Branding and Asking the Right Questions

Craig Kielburger, along with his brother Marc and their top notch team at Free The Children/Me To We have done more than almost anybody (equaled perhaps only by Live Different) to raise up a generation of passionate humanitarians in Canada. Their model of large events and international trips coupled with strategic marketing and corporate sponsorship has made them one of the dominant charity entities in our country and beyond. Yesterday they released the line up of speakers and performers for the first We Day in California coming up this March. Every We Day is highlighted by an impressive roster of communicators. A diverse group of humanitarians, young world changers, professional athletes, and the hottest pop culture icons grace the stage to add their support to the message of potential, activism, and personal meaning. It’s always risky to tie any charity closely to celebrities. The examples of this going sideways are numerous, including Scarlett Johansson’s ambassadorship with Oxfam being damaged by her Super Bowl commercial for SodaStream. Relying on the charisma and draw of people who may not fully understand or consistently support the purpose and values of your organization is a high risk/high reward strategy. I can only imagine the behind the scenes conversations involved in these partnerships. I was surprised to read that one of the names prominently featured for We Day California is actor/comedian Seth Rogen. While clearly famous, and someone who appears to be a sincerely kind person with legitimate charitable involvement, his comedy and movies are almost all focused on vulgar/stoner humour. I’m not sure that’s a great fit with the brand image and demographic of Free The Children. Does it make sense to draw on the profile of someone who’s work is actually legally inaccessible to many of your audience because of MPAA ratings? I don’t know the answer, and I expect Seth Rogen will do an excellent job of adding his piece of inspiration to the event. My point isn’t to take a shot at either the man or the charity. I see it as an example of the kind of possible tension that comes with tying a charity brand to any famous person. Organizational values are critically important, and the temptation to compromise them for some popular press is powerful, but it must be resisted. There is far more to be lost than to be gained through being associated with someone who may not be as compatible as it first appears. Consider any endorsement roughly equivalent to hiring a senior position. Do your homework and be sure you want your logo alongside their image. If you get this wrong your organization will likely suffer more than they will. What celebrities would you trust with your reputation?