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Celebrity Marketing

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Derek BartonDerek Barton

Some say Michael Jordan helped make Nike, and others say Nike helped make Michael Jordan. I say it was a little of both.

I remember the first Nike commercial, with Michael Jordan flying through the air in slow motion from the foul line, his right arm high above him holding the ball like the Statue of Liberty holding her torch, and as he hovered over the rim, he slammed the ball through the net for the most amazing dunk I ever saw. Holy s#$%. Air Jordan was born. I remember watching that over and over again saying to myself, "How in the hell does he do that?"

The subtle answer from Nike is simple. Wear our shoes. Yep, wear Nike shoes, and you can fly like Michael. Even though I'm a marketing guy, I bought into their message. I figured if one of the greatest basketball players of all time wears Nike, then a weekend warrior like me should do the same. Cha-ching $$$$... Another sale for Nike.

Does Celebrity Marketing work? It does for me from both sides, as a consumer and as a marketer. When I was the head of marketing for Gold's Gym from 1985 to 2005, I used my celebrity contacts as a means to help build the brand. I didn't have as big a budget as my competitors, so I had to outthink them.

I knew the power of PR, and I knew the power of product endorsement. Living in Los Angeles, we have our share of celebrities. Many would come into the famous Gold's Gym in Venice, "The Mecca of Bodybuilding," as it was called. I took advantage of that celebrity pool as well as my own celebrity friends from my show business background. I gave them all free memberships. One year at a time. No lifetime memberships. I gave their significant others a membership, too. Thanks to my famous football legend friend, Lyle Alzado, I learned to give their significant others only 3-month passes. Celebrities usually stay celebrities. Their significant others change like, well, like... celebrity's significant others. I knew where my loyalty was.

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