by Colin Jowell

The standard counsel one reels out when considering a celebrity endorsement is caution. Caution that it’s a good fit for your brand. Caution that you choose someone so squeaky clean they are not going to be found somewhere/with someone they should not. But something interesting happened to Woolworths this week which suggests that there is one more point of caution: Don’t choose someone that’s too much nicer than you!

AusVeg, who represent the good farmers of Australia, has apparently written to Woolworths latest spokesperson, Jamie Oliver, to protest against the levy they have been “asked” to pay to afford the chef’s endorsement. While Woolworth’s have said this is voluntary, there are enough stories out there about both supermarket giants to make it sound as voluntary as a guy who is found wearing cement shoes at the bottom of the harbour.

Cycle back ten years or so and Woolies was still using endorsement, but this time, it was the farmers themselves who had the voice. To paraphrase one of the ads, the farmer claimed he ate Woolies pineapples because he knew how hard it was to sell them an Orange. In one line, they had embraced the fact that they were known to be tough, but that it was all in favour of the customer and the farmers didn’t mind. And it probably cost a lot less than the celebrity endorsed books of collectables and recipes that underpin their current campaign.

Over at Coles, they are having no easier a time of it with the large investment they have made in their Heston Blumenthal range.  Ready made, they are clearly pitching to a different audience to the DIY Jamie Oliver crowd. But now they appear to be trying to Aussify their slightly esoteric choice of chef by adding indigenous ingredients. It all seems as tortured as the over-spiced sausages they are selling and may have the effect of making it even more foreign, not less. Lemon Myrtle anyone?

Celebrity endorsement has a long and proud history - Josiah Wedgewood is sometimes credited with one of the first recorded cases of Royal Endorsement in 1760, and trade cards have been recorded as early as 1875. They have survived in no small part because they work but, like all of these techniques, they need to evolve.

In the golden age of Advertising, we used to say that a celebrity was no substitute for an idea. Today, in a more transparent digital world, it’s no substitute for your business: the ultimate advice when considering the path of Celebrity endorsement is this - it’s a shortcut to attention. What kind of attention though, ultimately depends as much on your business, as it does on the person you choose to represent it.