In William Shatner's 14-year reign at Priceline, he became one of the best-known celebrity spokespeople of all time. Not only did the 81-year-old join a select group of Hollywood elite with long-term endorsement deals, he was also one of the first famous personalities to do so on behalf of an Internet service.
This past January, in a fiery bus crash, the Priceline Negotiator plunged to his "death" in a national television spot. While the Negotiator, AKA Shatner, burns up in advertising glory, a fellow passenger simultaneously picks up her smartphone to discover the perfect vacation deal.
But that's not the beginning of the end for celebrity endorsements—far from it. If Shark Tank's Daymond John has his way, each startup will have its very own celebrity pitchman someday.
"I think tech is lacking sexiness," says John. "I want to bring my understanding of lifestyle and culture to Silicon Valley."
John started his career in the fashion industry as a 20-something entrepreneur, eventually growing his iconic brand FUBU into an international business with more than $350 million in annual sales. Today, he's turning his attention to the web, with ongoing relationships with Shopify, TicketLeap, Resultly, and a new startup serving the club crowd.
On a recent deal on ABC's hit show Shark Tank, John invests in EzVip—think OpenTable, the restaurant reservation startup, catering to nightclubs and bottle service. John sweetens the deal to the company's founder, offering him access to an A-list artist Pitbull (pictured above with John, rapper Fat Joe, and BET host Rocsi Diaz), the international entertainer whose brand extends firmly into the social media space. With more than 4.8M Twitter followers and closing in on 20 million Facebook fans, John says Pitbull is a perfect fit based on his solid work ethic and his understanding of the most important principles of celebrity endorsements. "They (the endorsers) have to believe and be dedicated and understand how important this is to the company that is risking their livelihood on them," John says.
John explains that his interest in the tech space is that, unlike a product such as fashion or beauty, a celebrity e-endorser is able to help to complete the sales cycle within minutes. There is no waiting for the customer to go to a physical store; just a few clicks and an online transaction is complete. Moreover, this makes measuring the success of the partnership easy to access, with real-time analytics.
According to some research findings, celebrity followers online and brands are a match made in digital heaven. Last year Nielsen released a report about the value of celebrities to advertisers and the social media audiences who follow them. In the study, they found that a "celebrity follower is four times more likely to follow a brand than the average U.S. adult online."
While it might seem like big-name celebrities have the winning advantage not just in traditional media but also in the digital realm, there is a new group encroaching on their opportunities—the influencers. Last year shopping site Fab.com reported that in a sales promotion on their site, Digg founder Kevin Rose's 1.3 million Twitter followers brought in more sales than Hollywood celeb Ashton Kutcher's 7.3 million (incidentally, both are investors in the service). Just a couple of months ago, YouTube beauty blogger Julie Gutierrez partnered with Jesse's Girl Cosmetics to launch a new line of nail polish for Rite Aid stores.
John explains that whether you're hiring an Internet celebrity or a mainstream celebrity, endorsements are all about believability. In other words, be warned when shopping around for an endorser—an online influencer can be a celebrity in the Internet world, but a big-name celebrity doesn't always have digital influence.
In tonight's season finale of Shark Tank, viewers get an update about Pitbull and his EzVip role, and a brief look into how the artist is helping the brand.
As for Shatner, he may be stepping away from his Negotiator role for a while, but don't discount his understanding of the importance of influence in the digital age. Just this week he thanked his 1.4M Google+ fans for circling him, perhaps building up an army of followers that could come in handy when he's ready to renew his reign as the Internet's favorite pitchman.