Most brand managers know that, in 2022, one of the most effective ways to increase brand awareness and earn consumer trust is by partnering with a celebrity brand advocate. Think about it — the right celebrity partner brings attention, prestige, and their own personal flair to your brand image.
But finding the right fit isn’t always easy. Just because a celebrity is popular and influential doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be a good fit for your brand. For your partnership to be successful and effective, your chosen celebrity advocate needs to fulfill a few important requirements. They need to:
Share your brand values
Actually like/use your brand’s products and/or services
And (in an ideal world) avoid scandals
When you find the right partner, it opens up a whole new world for your brand — increasing your reach to new audiences and perhaps even making hesitant consumers reconsider your products.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at the example of the plant-based company Beyond Meat and compare the public reception and success of two of the brand’s celebrity advocates: Kim Kardashian and Kevin Hart. Plus, two examples of what not to do courtesy of Pepsi. Let’s dive in.
What Is A Celebrity Brand Advocate?
A celebrity brand advocate, also known as a celebrity brand ambassador, is someone well-known and influential who is hired by a brand to portray them in a positive light, help increase brand awareness, and work towards achieving company goals.
If you want to learn more about the basics of what a celebrity brand ambassador is, you can check out our deep dive into what they are and if they’re effective. In a nutshell, working with a celebrity brand advocate is a form of influencer marketing — just on a grander scale.
The goal of working with a big-name celebrity is to reach a larger audience with the help of that celebrity’s existing fanbase, as well as transfer the celebrity advocate’s positive associations over to your brand.
So, for example, let’s pretend that your brand, which sells sustainable workout clothing, just signed a contract with Chris Hemsworth to serve as your celebrity brand advocate. First of all, pretend congratulations — that’s a big win! Now, let’s list all the reasons why Hemsworth would be a great fit for your particular brand.
He’s a huge, well-known movie star with fans all over the world
He’s known for being healthy and fit and shares his workout routines on his social media often
He’s launched his own fitness app, Centr, which focuses on nutrition, wellness, and exercise
He’s well-liked by the public, having won a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Action Move Star in 2016
He has a history of supporting sustainability initiatives, as seen in his work with Corona x Parley, an initiative that is working to reduce plastic waste in the oceans
Based on this info, you know that Hemsworth checks all the most important boxes: he’s popular and well-liked, he has an organic interest in your products, he shares your brand values, and he’s scandal-free.
For these reasons and more, he’s a great celebrity brand advocate for your brand and will likely allow you to grow and increase your reach. Now, let’s take a look at some real-world examples to break down what when right and what went not so right in each.
Case Study: Beyond Meat
In 2022, plant-based meat alternatives are no longer seen as a fad — they’re part of a huge, powerful market that will only continue to grow. Beyond Meat, which was founded in 2009, is one of the industry’s most popular brands.
Over the years, Beyond Meat has rolled out many different marketing campaigns — but it’s always understood the importance of having a celebrity voice on your side. In the past, ”the brand has partnered with NBA players like Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul” — who were “not only brand ambassadors but are also investors in the company.”
Part of Beyond Meat’s strategy has always been not to call attention to the brand’s vegan, plant-based status. Instead, it chose to position its products as just another protein option — asking grocery stores to place Beyond Meat products in their regular meat sections. Ethan Brown, the brand’s founder, clarified this approach by explaining:
“We are providing energy for the body and we can pull it from a lot of different places. It represents what we feel is the first product that mainstream omnivores are willing to seek out and put at the center of their plate.”
Furthermore, Brown explained that Beyond Meat’s “marketing speaks very much to the ability for the highest-performing people in our society to perform not just as good, but better as result of the consumption of plant-based meat, particularly, our plant-based meat.”
Therefore, when looking for celebrity endorsements and big-name influencers to partner with, Beyond Meat has always looked for people who didn’t necessarily fit the typical plant-based advocate mold.
To be fair, not every celebrity advocate that Beyond Meat has worked with over the years has been a huge success — some have been more popular than others. But, they have all had one thing in common: they brought in publicity. Let’s take a look at two of the brand’s most recent celebrity advocate partnerships and how consumers responded.
Celebrity Advocate 1: Kim Kardashian
In May 2022, Beyond Meat released a commercial introducing Kim Kardashian as the brand's Chief Taste Consultant. The ad is humorous and plays into Kardashian’s image and reputation — saying that she “has stepped in to help Beyond Meat with her greatest asset: her taste.”
The commercial places Kardashian in a test kitchen, surrounded by Beyond Meat representatives in white chef’s coats, where she’s presented with a smattering of the brand’s products.
In a voice-over, Kardashian explains that “plant-based meat is not only amazingly delicious, but it’s also better for you, and better for the planet.” It continues with Kardashian trying and visibly enjoying a variety of Beyond Meat products and closing with the brand’s slogan: “There’s never been a better time to go beyond.”
To be fair, the ad is funny. At this point, Kardashian knows not to take herself too seriously — and this ad walks the thin line between outright humor and true advocacy. To be fair, Kardashian has been a Beyond Meat fan for years and explained in a statement that her fridge has been stocked with the brand’s products for years. Thus, her interest in the brand goes beyond a paycheck for starring in the campaign.
But, most importantly, Kardashian was chosen for her influence.
No, she’s not known for being vegan or heavily promoting plant-based diets. And, for some consumers, this made her a bad fit as a celebrity ambassador, claiming that only real vegans should be hired for these kinds of ads. However, this suits Beyond Meat’s overall strategy very well — partner with influential people who can get your brand in front of new audiences.
And thanks to the viral nature of this ad, it did just that. Millions of people — some who may have never heard of Beyond Meat or considered plant-based meat — saw the ad and are now aware of the brand and the movement.
Why It Works: When you’re as big a celebrity as Kim Kardashian, you’re going to rub some people the wrong way. As much as some consumers love the reality star turned entrepreneur, just as many really don’t like her. Choosing a controversial celebrity as an advocate is a bold move, as it can generate negative publicity for your brand. However, in this case, Beyond Meat weighed the potential backlash against the access to new audiences… and the new audiences won.
Like her or not, Kardashian delivered an effective ad campaign for Beyond Meat. She’s (more or less) aligned with the brand’s goals and values and has actively used the brand’s products for years. Now, no one would claim she’s scandal-free, but that’s part of the Kardashian appeal — the drama never ends.
Overall, this campaign generated buzz for Beyond Meat and allows the company to increase its brand awareness.
Celebrity Advocate 2: Kevin Hart
In May 2022, Beyond Meat released a commercial featuring comedians Kevin Hart and Spank Horton, which was made via Hart’s own company, Heartbeat. In the ad, Hart is seen grilling at a backyard barbeque when he offers Horton a plant-based burger.
Horton asks “When did we start eating plant-based foods at our cookout?” — to which Hart responds “Don’t tell me you’re afraid to try something new, Spank.” This playful back and forth highlights one of plant-based brands’ biggest issues: many meat-eating consumers are unwilling to try alternatives.
Hart points out that “change is good” and, to illustrate this concept, takes viewers “on a montage-style retrospective of cookouts of yore” — from “70s-style afros alongside bell-bottomed friends” to “denim overalls and flattop haircuts” of the 90s.
It’s whimsical and a bit goofy — but the core message still resonates: although “change can feel uncomfortable because we feel connected to tradition”, it's still “important to make forward-looking changes that are better for both us and our planet.” However, this isn’t Hart’s first connection with Beyond Meat.
Hart has actually been involved with Beyond Meat for a while now, having invested in the company back in 2019. Furthermore, he adheres primarily to a plant-based diet, meaning he used Beyond Meat’s products regularly. But most importantly, Hart is passionate about “helping people live better lives” and wanted to ensure that the commercial was authentic to his personality and beliefs.
Why It Works: Kevin Hart is a well-known celebrity — with 147 million Instagram followers and plenty of blockbuster movies under his belt, his influence reaches far. Add in the fact that he has a personal connection to the brand and wants to spread its message of using plant-based products to help fight climate change — and you have a well-thought-out, successful celebrity-led campaign.
Once again, though Hart is generally well-liked by the public, he doesn’t have a perfectly spotless record. In 2018, the comedian was asked to step down from hosting the Oscars after old tweets, which “expressed anti-gay sentiments and used homophobic terminology and slurs”, resurfaced.
In response to the situation, Hart shared on Twitter:
“I have made the choice to step down from hosting this year’s Oscar’s….this is because I do not want to be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing talented artists. I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past.
“I’m sorry that I hurt people. I am evolving and want to continue to do so. My goal is to bring people together not tear us apart. Much love & appreciation to the Academy. I hope we can meet again.”
For some consumers, this wasn’t enough. The fact that Hart used homophobic terminology was enough to cancel him outright. However, others accepted the fact that people make mistakes — and if they’re willing to sincerely apologize, learn, and do the work to improve, then it’s better to help them along the way.
So, while Hart made his fair share of mistakes and blunders, he’s made many public statements since then that indicate he’s been learning and evolving — which, if anything, makes him a realistic spokesperson for a brand that’s working to help people change their antiquated views on eating meat alternatives.
What Not To Do: Learn From Pepsi
Not every brand has been as successful as Beyond Meat when it comes to choosing celebrity brand advocates. There are plenty of examples of cases where brands end up choosing the wrong celebrity advocate for one reason or another — and suffering the consequences.
Let’s look at two such examples from Pepsi and discuss what went wrong.
1. Pepsi + Kendall Jenner
First, let’s consider Kendall Jenner’s fateful 2017 ad with Pepsi — all in all, it did not generate positive attention for the brand. When Jenner signed on as a celebrity brand advocate for Pepsi, she likely wasn’t aware of the intricacies of the planned commercial.
In said commercial, Jenner is seen leaving a photo shoot to join a group of protesters “calling for love and peace”. Jenner moves through the crowd with a Pepsi and hands it to a police officer as a peace offering of sorts. The officer then smiles and the crowd cheers…
Shortly after it went live, anger was already spilling over online. The ad was “criticised for painting a ‘privileged, white’ model as a peacemaker between civil rights activists and police” — and many felt that it undermined the Black Lives Matter movement.
While the overall idea wasn’t great — Pepsi definitely didn’t do itself any favors in its choice of celebrity advocate. Jenner is not known for her political affiliations or support of civil rights organizations. Perhaps the commercial would have been received differently if the brand had chosen a celebrity advocate whose personal values and image aligned better with supporting civil rights.
But then again, the concept of any celebrity brokering peace between protesters and the police is fairly far-fetched.
2. Pepsi + Beyoncé
At first glance, there was nothing wrong with this celebrity endorsement. Beyoncé is a well-loved, powerhouse of a celebrity — who wields a significant amount of influence. Thus, being chosen as a celebrity brand advocate for Pepsi makes sense, and the brand’s “Live for Now” campaign started out strong.
However, it didn’t take fans long to realize Pepsi’s blunder. According to Zillion Designs, “the marketing team failed to realize that Beyoncé was also supporting Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign” — which championed exercise and healthy living. Thus, “social media comments were progressively harsh about (Beyoncé’s) blatant hypocrisy. Pepsi and fitness, who was she trying to fool?”
In this case, the chosen celebrity advocate didn’t create any scandals — the Pepsi team didn’t conduct the proper research to see if her values matched up to their own. Again, Pepsi ended up upsetting consumers and using the wrong celebrity to try and appeal to the masses.
At the end of the day, whether the issue is a bad value match-up, a scandal-prone celebrity, or something else unforeseen — there’s no guarantee that your celebrity brand advocate will “make” your brand.
But, if you do your homework and find someone with real influence who agrees with your values and maybe even uses your products — then they may just be the “break” that your brand needs to reach new audiences.