Matchmakers – The new era of celebrity endorsements

The German athletic wear giant PUMA introduced their new brand ambassador the other week, Kylie Jenner.  The news comes as a surprise after the much-discussed push back Kylie received from brother-in-law and Adidas affiliate Kanye West. This falls in line with a stream of celebrity collaborations PUMA has pushed in recent memory, with artists like Meek Mill and Rihanna.  It’s easy to write this off as a media play.  Introducing Kylie is a facile strategy for PUMA to increase its buzz and to further penetrate the teen and young adult demographics.  However, don’t scoff too soon.  Is there a method to PUMA’s madness, and is there anyway Kylie can be their ace in the hole?

In the past few years, the non-athlete celebrity collaboration has become a mainstay in the ever-competitive fashion world.  Jordan’s recent partnership with rapper Drake, Adidas’ partnership with Rita Ora and Pharrell, and most recently, Guess’ collection with A$AP Rocky, has truly communicated the reliance on these names to make a brand pop in 2016.

However, each brand has had varying degrees of success with their partnerships, with differences in the level of collaboration.  For Pharrell, he was able to re-design a classic Adidas silhouette, the Superstar, using various PANTONE colours, which were well received by mainstream sneaker audiences.  Conversely, Drake has been able to quietly contribute to the normal Jordan fanfare, with the introduction of the OVO Jordan 10’s earlier in 2016, with more releases scheduled this year.

The quandary related to these celebrity partnerships comes with regards to their incremental value.  Is it really worth it, financially, for these brands to work with these non-athlete brands?  Earlier this month, Billboard reported that Adidas saw an increase in year-over-year sales for 2015 of 12%, with 10% of all dollars earned coming from the Adidas Superstar.  Similarly, MarketWatch recently confirmed that PUMA has already seen a sales lift due to their relationship with Rihanna, who has helped them further their share of the female casual shoe market.

The numbers seem to make sense, but brand relevancy and image is also at stake when it comes to these relationships.   Most famously, Nike saw a large shift in cultural cache get moved to Adidas after Kanye West decided to partner with Adidas on his recent Yeezy sneakers.  Artists like Drake, Rihanna, and Pharrell have become household names, and endorsements filter through on the tail end of that stardom.

Kylie’s potential with PUMA is difficult to quantify, given the polarizing brand associated with the Kardashian-Jenner clan.  The family is immensely successful in their gang of endorsements and ventures, and transferring the x factor would be difficult if not for the x factors Kylie herself leverages to understand fashion’s dynamic waves.  Her support from personal friend and stylist Ian Connor is a strong example of how Kylie remains in the know, and its this social media relevancy that best showcases her value for PUMA.  Using Kylie’s presence on your Instagram feed is the exact real estate PUMA so hungrily desires.   So in many ways, it is a media play, but a play that has a strong argument for potentially increased sales and relevancy.  If its not broken, no need to fix it.

Brands of a large size can’t always sustain a story.  Once there is no more narrative to tell, it helps, especially on the grand stage, to leverage someone else’s engagement with the masses.  The CEOs can’t control cool, but they do control investments in production scale and technology.  Brands that best understand that there is a fundamental difference between the boardroom and the gram is the one that will leave the x factor to those who know it best, the Drake’s and Kylie Jenner’s of the world.


Photograph: Lauren Dukoff

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