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Denim Brands Lack Strategy for Celebrity Endorsements, Report Says

When it comes to celebrity endorsements, the denim category has yet to hit its stride.

A new report by Spotted, a data platform that helps marketers make decisions around celebrity talent, ranks five leading denim brands on its list of the 15 fashion and retail brands with the worst celebrity strategies.

Gap (No. 2), J Brand (No. 5), 7 For All Mankind (No. 6), Tommy Hilfiger (No. 10) and Levi’s (No. 11) shared the bottom 15 with luxury players like Fendi, Balmain and Versace, which Spotted said has the worst celebrity strategy.

Spotted’s ranking of celebrity endorsements is based on three factors. A perception analysis scores celebrities on recognition, trustworthiness and measures the scale at which consumers believe the celebrity embodies the values of the brand. Audience match measures the overlap between the brand’s and celebrity’s online audiences. And a risk assessment examines how risky a brand’s celebrity partner is or may become to the brand’s image—a major concern in the social media era when a single tweet can take down a career.

Strategy aside, there have been some solid celebrity endorsement deals in denim this year.

Spotted ranked Tommy Hilfiger’s partnership with former America’s Next Top Model contestant Winnie Harlow as the second-best endorsement deal of 2018. Harlow, a public spokesperson on the skin condition vitiligo with 3.9 million Instagram followers, was named a global brand ambassador for the Fall ’18 Tommy Icons capsule collection.

Ashley Graham proved to be golden for premium denim brand Rag & Bone. Ranked No. 4 on Spotted’s list of 50 best endorsement deals, the plus size model showed off her famous curves in the brand’s The DIY Project campaign alongside Hailey Baldwin, Bella Hadid and Paris Jackson. Graham caught some flack among her fans for promoting a brand that carries up to size 32 jeans. However, Rag & Bone joined the conversation and announced plans to extend its size range this fall.

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At age 49, singer and actress Jennifer Lopez proved that all ages can be a “Guess girl.” The brand endorsement deal ranked No. 13. Signing the popular starlet was a bright spot for Guess during an otherwise controversial year that included the harassment probe and consequential resignation of co-founder and executive chairman Paul Marciano.

Cher and Gap was another unlikely partnership with successful results. The endorsement deal, ranked No. 17 by Spotted, had the iconic singer duet with Future in an uplifting rendition of “Everyday People.” The campaign celebrated what can be created when distinct people connect and discover they have more in common than what divides them.

However, Gap’s partnerships with actresses Awkwafina and Bria Vinaite and DJ Metro Boomin failed to take off, landing them deals on Spotted’s bottom 50 endorsement deals. Levi’s missed the boat as well with its deals with model Courtney Eaton, singer Solange Knowles and political activist Angela Davis. J Brand’s deal with singer-songwriter Lou Doillon and Frame’s deal with fashion editor Giovanna Battaglia landed in the bottom 20.

Over half of the fashion industry’s endorsement deals carry a risk score of 50 or above, Spotted reported, indicating that celebrities that engage in risky behavior have not been able to gain back the trust of the public. As a result, over 75 percent of endorsement deals in the fashion and retail industry suffer from low consumer approval.

Spotted named Kim Kardashian West, who currently stars in Calvin Klein’s campaign, the riskiest celebrity endorser. Though she supports over 22 charities and causes, Spotted reported that she lacks consumer trust and is perceived risky, due in part to a range of scandals from posting topless photos of herself to defending a controversial makeup artist known to make racist comments.

Endorsements by Kardashian West’s half-sister and model Kendall Jenner have the largest negative impact, which Spotted said is affecting her deals with Missoni, Adidas, Tiffany & Co. and Fendi.

Meanwhile, Justin Bieber’s fiancé and former Guess girl Hailey Baldwin’s low consumer approval is negatively impacting her endorsements for Pandora, Rag & Bone, Levi’s and Tommy Hilfiger. Spotted said overall endorsement strength for these brands is poor ranging between the 41st percentile and 46th percentile across all four brands, with Levi’s being the lowest of the four.

While the opportunity to select the right celebrity is great, Spotted said it becomes the responsibility of the brand to carefully select those celebrities that consumers most trust and most highly approve of.