With everyone from Britney to Sean John to J.Lo starting their own apparel lines and everyone from Sarah Jessica to Madonna touting the rest, apparel companies need to know the ins and outs of celebrity marketing. It's not just because "everyone's doing it," but rather because everyone (doing it well) is making profits from it says Stacy Baker.

Here, we talk to Ken Hirst, president of Hirst International, to bring you the top tips, tools and tricks of the trade of using a superstar to back your brand.

Common sense goes a long way 
Sometimes the biggest secret to success is the obvious: do what makes sense. In the case of celebrity marketing, the formula is the same. Partner with those who embody the attributes of your brand.

Hirst says Louis Vuitton's use of Jennifer Lopez and Uma Thurman, and Versace's use of Madonna and Demi Moore are great examples of brands that have chosen their endorsers wisely.

"A high-profile brand must choose a high-profile celebrity. These are also brands that are certain of their identity within the market," he says. "Versace was looking for a woman who is both sexy and powerful, sensual and independent; Madonna and Demi Moore exemplify these attributes perfectly."

 • Use celebs to trade up
If you're a brand or retailer like H&M, Gap, etc, you can use stars to give your label a whole new level of prestige - as long as it's believable. Hirst says the concept is to use the celebrity to extend the brand into a whole new audience, à la Karl Lagerfeld and his H&M line, which brought high-end shoppers to the store.

At the same time, the image and ideals of the celebrity must correspond with those of the brand. "For existing high profile brands, celebrity endorsement does just that, a playful new presentation of the apparel reinforcing the brand, and an introduction to the brand for new customers through recognition of, and connection with, the celebrity," says Hirst.

"For mass brands, the celebrity appeal is slightly different; it is an introduction to new consumers, but at the same time it elevates the prestige of the brand for existing consumers."

Create an emotional connection with consumers
Most of us are naturally drawn to celebrities, so the key isn't for the brand to generate that connection, but more for it to choose the celebrity who "fits" with the image of the label. That fit is based on how people see the celebrity, ie their movie roles, their image outside of movies, affiliations, etc.

"A recent psychological study by Satoshi Zanazawa in 'Evolution and Human Behaviour' claims that our brains react to familiar television personalities in the same way they react to close friends," he says. "The frequency with which we see these individuals in the media engenders in us a certain fondness, reasonably or not, and celebrity marketing makes the most of that. The emotional connection is always there."
 
He points to Ashley Judd and her reputation as an All-American being a great match for Estée Lauder's American Beauty, as well as Queen Latifah's endorsement of VF Intimates' "Curvation" lingerie, which targets plus sizes.

"Sales increased to "unprecedented" levels when her promotion of the line began. The fun, sexy, successful woman she comes across as in entertainment was something that consumers hoped to channel into themselves," Hirst adds.

He says that when you team up with celebs who are part of the society's culture, there's a natural emotional connection. "A well-chosen celebrity falls into one of two categories," he explains. "They can be hot right now - in which case their career and media coverage are enough to keep their connection with the public alive - or they can be celebrities who will never go out of style, whose connection with the public was cemented years ago with a signature role or a billboard hit."

It doesn't take long to think of a dozen or so celebrity "greats" who fall into this category. Those whose voice you recognise instantly or who created such a name for themselves they're never off the radar: think Julia Roberts, Gene Hackman, Harrison Ford, Meryl Streep and many more.

Choose your celebrity wisely
The biggest issue in choosing a celebrity for your brand is to align with someone whose image and values resonate with those of your brand. If you don't, the ads are simply confusing for people on a certain level. If your brand and the celebrity are a good match, the proof will be in the revenues.

"The consumer's interest is automatically aroused," says Hirst. "Brand loyalty goes far in the business, but celebrity loyalty goes further. Sports figures, actresses and favourite singers: we debate and defend these individuals, we follow their personal lives, and we connect with them and trust them.

"If a company finds the right celebrity for a campaign, they gain access to that celebrity's audience. If that audience is their target consumer, they've chosen wisely, and the ad campaign will almost always be a success."

Once you've chosen the perfect fit for your label, Hirst says the key is to link the celeb to your product in the consumer's mind. This way, each time the celeb makes his or her media rounds, you get free publicity. Timing is everything.

"The emotional link with a celebrity is reinforced by his or her own career, and that link is extended to the brand," he says. "We cannot separate a celebrity's endorsements from their film characters any more than we can separate those characters from their real-life counterparts.

"An endorsement from a celebrity is an endorsement from every film character they play, magazine cover they look out from, and public appearance they make."

Stay on top of pop culture
Don't give consumers yesterday's A-list celeb to promote your ultra-hip label. It will make your brand seem outdated too. Instead, get ahead of the who's who curve and tell consumers who they should be deeming fashion divas…if you've got a trend-forward label.

Conversely, if you're fashionable but not trendy, look for celebs with the same image. Know which stars have what reputation so you're better able to pair your brand message with someone who fits the same role.

"Marketing strategies are derived by or are driven by popular appeal," says Hirst. "The most successful marketing strategies are ones that are right at the cusp of popular appeal. The consumers are market savvy and weary of tired or outdated celebrities. But being on the cusp of popular appeal does not always mean having the newest face."

Hirst points to Quentin Tarantino who doesn't always choose Hollywood's "it" leading man or woman to star in his films. Rather, he chooses the person who epitomises the characters.

"John Travolta, long out of Hollywood's spotlight before "Pulp Fiction," proved one such success, he says. "Tarantino knew that he could reveal a side of Travolta the world would embrace, one that would bring to life the character he had in mind. Celebrity marketing looks to do just that: to find what consumers want before they even know that they want it, to discover the perfect match for the role at hand."

Consumers have to believe that the celeb fits the role you've hired them for and share the same values. For example, you probably won't see an up-and-coming teen rock star touting Chanel.

Keep your image fresh
After that, as long as the celebrity keeps his hands clean, the mutual growth is organic. Troublesome cases arise when a celebrity falls out of favour with the public as a result of scandal.

When Kobe Bryant was charged with sexual assault two years ago, he was dropped from endorsement deals with McDonalds and Nutella, and has only now begun appearing in ads for Nike again. As long as a celebrity remains in the good graces of the consumers, the brand's name and association will thrive.

Choose a celeb with reach
To maximise your impact, go for stars with international presence, particularly if your brand is global. Doing so will ensure you touch as many people as possible with your message and your brand will ride the coat-tails of your celebrity's high-profile status.

"Building brand awareness can be a long hard road to hoe; however a celebrity with international status who has both large fan support and high public awareness globally, establishes the largest potential market from the outset and thus minimises the risk," says Hirst.

Back super-star status with packaging
Choosing the right face for your product is only half the battle. A great celeb can only do so much, which means you've got to have design and packaging to back up the image.

"The secret is impressive design. A good marketing campaign is nothing without a product to back it up," says Hirst. "It must represent the values of both company and celebrity in its very form and function. Every stage of design should work in harmony with the others - product design, packaging, advertising and display - to present a complete image to the consumer."

By Stacy Baker.