Turning to celebrities to promote your products is a natural way to build brand awareness and credibility. Associations with popular names can boost sales, especially when customers believe the endorser actually uses that particular product. However, there are risks involved in this strategy as well, so tread cautiously before tying your company to someone who has the potential to do your business more harm than good.

Making the Connection

An advantage to using celebrities to promote your product is that it increases your chances of making an emotional connection with your customers. People see more than 3,000 commercial images over the course of their day and the vast majority fail to register with them. Seeing that celebrity can break through the filter and be the deciding factor that convinces a consumer to make the decision to buy.

Look for people whose attributes you want associated with your brand. If you're looking to sell glitz and glamour, look for someone who fits that image. If your target audience is more focused on everyday appeal, an actress with a girl-next-door reputation is a better choice. Don't ask the star of your local home repair show to endorse makeup -- but that person might be a great endorser for your hardware store.

Increasing Recognition

Celebrity endorsements can be a big advantage when you’re a new company trying to get noticed, debuting a product, or striving to get customers to learn more about your brand. Nike used Tiger Woods to build its golf brand, while Heidi Klum helped introduce Unilever’s Clear Hair Care brand to the United States.

While these names may seem out of your price range as a small-business owner, note that it doesn't take global superstars to make a difference. Pick someone that resonates among your target markets, whether it’s a local celebrity or someone who appeals to a particular audience segment. Your local college football coach may carry more appeal for your potential customers than an endorsement from the Super Bowl champion, and a less-famous actress with ties to your area can be a great asset as well.

Get Celebrities Involved

One way to increase the likelihood that a celebrity product promotion will pay off is to look for a natural pairing that will inspire the celebrity to push for a closer connection. One example: Totes Isotoner signed Rihanna to promote their line of umbrellas, using her hit song “Umbrella” as a marketing hook to reach customers. But the pop star also inspired the company to create customized umbrellas with more pizzazz, and Totes Isotoner guaranteed her a percentage of sales. The close connection with Rihanna worked, as the company reported that the campaign led to soaring web traffic and more product awareness from younger shoppers.

Choose Carefully

There are a number of disadvantages to relying on celebrities to promote your products. For starters, celebrities are a part of your business that you can’t control. If your star pitchman gets arrested, or even if their star grows cold, their effectiveness as your promoting agent can vanish. Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong, for example, were among the top pitchmen in the country -- right until the moment that scandals turned them into commercial pariahs instead.

Often it only takes some poorly-chosen words to be damaging, like if your celebrity criticizes China’s human rights policy as you’re looking to expand in that region. Actors and actresses can see their viability as product promoters fade along with their box office totals, and athletes who get benched also lose their effectiveness on your sales.