One way for nonprofits to find a role for their celebrity connections is to ask them to star in a PSA. Not only is the talent donated, but the draw of a celebrity often leads to more involvement because people actually pay attention to what some celebrities say. But, at the same time choosing and investing in a celebrity spokesperson can bring more drawbacks than what they are worth. A couple of reasons:
1. Having a PSA with a celebrity may limit the media willing to run the PSA. Networks (or media companies like NBC Universal or News Corporation) want to support their talent only. For example, NBC will not want to run a PSA with John Cryer from Two and a Half Men, who is CBS talent.
2. The public may come to think that the celebrity = the brand. When we started working with the USO in 2002, the USO brand and Bob Hope were almost one in the same. While Bob Hope tirelessly championed the USO across the globe, he became the brand and the brand got lost.
3. The impact of the message may depend on the favorability of the celebrity. Although celebrities offer a huge fanbase for a nonprofit’s message, on the other hand, people who do not like the celebrity will discount the message and move on.
4. The brand is now connected to the celebrity’s public image, so if they fall from grace, it’s possible the brand will, too. Can we say Tiger Woods? Or even more recently, Randy Travis? Just like commercial endorsement deals, when a celebrity represents a cause (one that depends on the generosity of the public to support their efforts) the PR nightmare can cause more than just a mess. It can derail a nonprofit’s resources away from doing their job to cleaning up.
With that said, there are a few occasions where I’ve seen a celebrity-focused PSA that I think works. The most recent is an announcement about the “Ask.Screen.Know.” campaign. (While I’m not quite sure it is a true PSA campaign since it features the Novo Nordisk logo at the end, I’m going to assume it’s playing either way – paid or unpaid.)
They have enlisted Rev Run (or Run DMC) to be their newest celebrity spokesperson. Rev Run has an incredible social media following and is very well-liked by Gen X and Gen Y. He will make a great spokesperson for diabetes awareness to these younger generations. The campaign has already had several celebrities star in spots like Olympia Dukakis and James Avery (Uncle Phil on the Fresh Prince), including this one with “Mr. Big”…cough, cough…I mean Chris Noth.
What I like about the campaign is that the personal delivery from a celebrity works with the message of encouraging people to get screened for diabetes. When Chris Noth says, “1 in 12 Americans has [diabetes] and a third don’t know it. If you’re 45 of older…” it comes across authentically. Why? Because he’s an American who is 58 and is clearly into staying healthy, just like he says in the beginning of the spot. I believe whatever Rev Run says on screen will across just as authentic and hopefully persuade young Americans to get screened for diabetes and take charge of their own health. A win-win for everyone.