Celebrity Endorsements: The other Menzgold Issue
In a country with a weak royalties and copyrights regime, product endorsement is more straightforward a revenue stream for celebrities. Sometimes these endorsements work out so well that, for years, we cannot help but remember both the product and the celebrity in the same breath. A personal favourite is David Dontoh’s “He is a good Samaritan, that is all” advert for the National Lottery Authority from the mid-90s. Also, it is difficult to forget the Key Soap ‘Medɔfo pa’ advert featuring Kofi Middleton Mends. The legendary comedian, Super OD also featured in a funny Carnation Tea Creamer advert some years ago. These examples show a particular kind of endorsement: one in which the celebrity acts in a TV commercial (or for that matter, a radio commercial).
The arrangement may be seen as simple: you lend your face and voice in support of a product and you get paid. It is really not that simple as it is more of a reputation and legitimation question. Once you decide to use your image to support a brand, you are also putting your reputation on the line. You are telling the general public that; ‘you know me… trust me, this is a good product’. This means that celebrities must never see endorsements as just another avenue for quick/easy cash. There is more to it. It is a risk that must be accepted carefully. A risk that could end one’s career or if you are lucky, just dent your bankability.
Over time, I see an evolution in the endorsement business in Ghana. This was particularly intensified by the corporate rivalry in our telecommunications industry, I suspect. We moved from the days where Mikki Osei Berko (aka Master Richard) acted in the “Megyina abɔnten na merekasa” commercial to the Globacom endorsement deals for Ghanaian celebrities like Paapa Yankson, Becca, Tinny, Wutah, Jackie Appiah and Reggie Rockstone. Samini and later, Okyeame Kwame signed with MTN. At this time (from the late 2000s) we saw the kind of endorsement deal that sought to get celebrities more attached to the product. Thus it was now not only a matter of ‘I have acted in their commercial’ or ‘I have my face on their billboard’ but it had become more of a commitment to represent the brand and its values around the clock – brand ambassador properly so-called. Globacom endorsers were not to play on MTN-sponsored shows for instance.
This beyond-the-advert kind of endorsement was seen with Menzgold too. There were celebrities who took to Youtube and other outlets to market Menzgold. Some of these celebrities were signed by Zylofon Media – the creative arts wing of the ‘Menzgold empire’ There were others who were not officially affiliated to Menzgold but still publicly promoted the outfit’s operations. Now that Menzgold has been exposed for what it really was, there needs to be a deep conversation about the celebrity endorsements it came with.
It is very viable for a Menzgold customer to suggest that his/her decision to patronize Menzgold was based on the legitimacy granted by the explicit pronouncements of these celebrities. After all, that was what these celebrity endorsements were meant for. So why won’t these endorsers speak up? It will not bring customers their monies but it is the ethical thing to do. It shows respect for their brand and their fans.
Such celebrity responsibility and accountability is both in the personal interest of the celebrities and then, the endorsement industry in Ghana. We need credible and reflective celebrities. Those are the ones whose endorsements we can trust. Those are the ones we can believe have the wellbeing of their fans at heart. Those are the ones who value their brand and image more than their pockets. If these celebrities do not exercise some sense of responsibility, we cannot continue to trust their present and future endorsements. If we cannot trust them, then corporations will soon have to part ways with such celebrities. These celebrities then will lose out but more worryingly; it could eventually lead to a situation where celebrity endorsement as an industry in Ghana collapses for good.
Importantly, the argument here is not only about the Menzgold debacle but also about a culture in which certain persons accept fat cheques and forget about larger responsibilities to their fans and the general public. In fact, if our celebrities place personal image and public interest ahead of private pocket, they will understand the need to fully research products before endorsing them. Also, then they will be ready to openly de-link from a product where it is clear that the product or its makers are undermining human values and public interest. Maybe we should just be asking the question: what are the values and ethics of our celebrities? The inverse also applies: where our celebrities disregard ethics, social values and public interest concerns, corporations have the responsibility of ‘cancelling’ them.
The public must never be taken for granted as it makes both the corporation and the celebrity. This is not a special request. It is about keeping high standards and respect as is down elsewhere. When H&M presented a racist advert, celebrities like The Weeknd and G-Eazy parted ways with the clothing outfit. This is what The Weeknd said: “… shocked and embarrassed by this photo. I’m deeply offended and will not be working with H&M any more”. G-Eazy added: “I can’t allow for my name and brand to be associated with a company that could let this happen.”
This is self-respect and respect for those you influence. This is accountability.