If celebrities should just stay away from computers, phones, MP3 players and all the rest of it…
You probably never expected to feel sorry for Michael Bay. As a director, he's synonymous with big, dumb summer blockbusters, the kind that are rammed with explosions and scantily clad women and which make millions at the box office. He's not a particularly sympathetic figure. And yet, if you watched him struggling on stage at CES, unable to come up with anything to say about Samsung's new curved telly after his autocue left him high and dry, you might have managed to muster up a shred of pity for him.

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Should you feel sorry for Samsung as well, though? It's becoming increasingly common for tech companies to wheel out celebrities to endorse their products. It makes sense, from a marketing perspective: being able to stick a celebrity's name or face on your adverts has worked for all kinds of products, from perfume to blenders, both because the association appeals to fans and because some of the star power rubs off.

In Samsung's case it wanted to show off how big and exciting its new TV was, so it brought in the master of big and exciting. Bay's movies are loud and visually flashy; the association should have suggested that the TV would add an extra layer of excitement to any movie you watched on it. Unfortunately, the botched presentation mostly meant everyone either laughed at or commiserated with Bay, and the TV got lost in the background. But you can see the logic behind the decision just about.

The thing is while celebrity endorsements seem like they should be good for a brand, it doesn't often seem to work like that for technology companies. Over the years, lots of them have hired famous faces to either speak for or work with their companies, and though few of them have crashed and burned quite as quickly as Michael Bay at CES, there have been an awful lot of failed partnerships. Let's look at some previous examples and how they worked out..;

The Ones Who Didn't Live the Brand

Celebrity endorsement deals, unsurprisingly, generally mean that the celebrity in question has to be seen to use the product in public. If you're a celebrity being paid to endorse a watch, you're going to need to wear that watch while you're out and about. And if you're a celebrity being paid to endorse a phone, you ought to use it. You'd think that'd be straightforward enough, but a couple of deals have come a cropper because the celebs in question couldn't remember to use the devices they were promoting.
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In 2008, Motorola hired David Beckham to promote a new luxury mobile phone, the Aura. The handset cost £1,400, was sculpted by hand and incorporated various expensive-sounding parts. Including a 62 carat sapphire lens. Adverts featuring Beckham played up the idea of sculpting, of a physical form honed to do a specific job - and yeah, he wasn't wearing many clothes in them. So far so good; using Beckham in ad campaigns had worked out well for several other brands, and this one just about held together.
Until David was spotted using an iPhone in public. Since he's David Beckham, the paparazzi were there to document his off brand texting and the tabloids were keen to jump on it, with gleeful headlines wondering if he'd get the sack as a result. Which probably' wasn't quite the publicity Motorola was hoping for. Still, the brand reckoned Beckham helped it crack some key foreign markets, and he's since been hired as a brand ambassador for Samsung so the slip wasn't completely catastrophic.

A similar thing happened to Jessica Alba, who was hired to promote the Nokia Lumia, a Windows-branded mobile phone. She, at least, managed to get to the end of her contract before being spotted with an iPhone, but that didn't stop gossip sites reporting that the Lumia couldn't have been that great if she was so quick to switch brands. It's possible both of these incidents actually just highlight how daft tabloid journalism is, rather than saying anything about celebrities and technology.
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The lesson for PR types, though, is that a celebrity's every move is going to be endlessly scrutinised, and if they're not entirely behind the brand they're promoting, it's likely to be noticed. Microsoft has continued to use famous faces as advertising billboards and is currently running a UK campaign featuring lames Cordon and Holly Willoughby talking about how much they love their Windows phones. If either of them own iPhones, they might want to be careful about how publicly they use them ...

The Ones With Dubious Creative Input

Not all celebrity endorsement deals are just about buying someone's image to stick on your posters. Over the last couple of years, it's become increasingly common for celebs to be given official sounding titles by technology companies - titles that imply they're actually working with the brand to create products that have their own identities stamped on them. The thing is though, most actors, pop stars and sporting types aren't actually engineers or even marketers, so these jobs might not actually involve very much work. In 2010, for instance, Polaroid announced that it had hired pop star of the moment Lady Gaga as creative director for a new range of image-related products.

The line, dubbed Grey Label, was actually unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show In 2011: the GL30 instant digital camera (which looked like a retro Polaroid camera but used digital imaging tech to get crisper photos); the GL10 mobile photo printer (basically a vaguely smart-looking photo printer); and GL20 camera glasses (which incorporated a camera in the bridge and two LCD screens In front of the lenses.) Apparently, Gaga was very keen on the glasses, having based them on the kind of sunglasses he liked to wear. But they never actually turned into a commercial product.

The only one of the Gaga/Polaroid products that made it to shelves was the printer, which wasn't very exciting and couldn't, no matter how much you squinted, really convey anything of Gaga's brand identity. So that was a bit underwhelming. Another failed creative partnership just ended very publicly: last January, BlackBerry announced it had appointed Alica Keys to the position of Global Creative Director. Like Gaga, she wasn't expected to show up to the office and do any actual directing - rather, her role was apparently to come up with ideas for promoting the brand and to use her own star power to attract attention to its campaigns. She was part of the BlackBerry Keep Moving project, which also roped In Neil Gaiman and Robert Rodriguez and also advocated getting more women Involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) industries. But again, nothing really came of any 01 it. Keep Moving was soon dead in the water, and Keys, as good as she might be at what she does, doesn't really work in any kind of scientific industry, so that was a bit of a damp squib. Within a year, BlackBerry had ended Key’s contract.
It seems fairly obvious that hiring pop stars to pretend to do jobs instead of real people who actually know what they're doing is a bit of a silly idea and yet brands keep doing It. Lenovo, for instance, has just hired Ashton Kutcher as a "product engineer" and claimed in press releases that he would be bringing his own expertise to product development for them. 50 far, the only product he's supposed to have had any input into is the Yoga tablet, which hasn't really made much of an impact on the market He might yet come up with something brilliant, of course, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

The Ones That Made No Sense
50 far, all the examples I've cited boil down to tech companies paying over the odds for ad campaigns and celebrities cashing in at their expense. But sometimes, a celebrity endorsement deal is so ill-conceived that it just seems odd.
Do you remember, for instance, the utterly baffling Microsoft adverts featuring Jerry Seinfleld and Bill Gates shopping for shoes? It was made in 2008 to promote Windows Vista and was meant to be funny - but it just confused everyone. It didn't help that Seinfeld wasn't exactly a current star at the time; he's best known for his sitcom, Seinfeld, which ended in 1998. Rather than making Microsoft seem cool and exciting, the odd advert made the company seem out of touch and weird. Probably not the best way to sell an already widely disliked operating system, then.

The weirdness continued more recently, when HTC signed up first James Van Der Beek and then Robert Downey Jnr to do adverts for its smartphones. Weird adverts. The Van Der Beek one was a spoof of US reality show The Bachelorette, where a woman picked from a line-up of men dressed as phones. The concept makes sense on paper, but in practice, it's just awkward. The Robert Downey Jnr one isn’t much better, with Downey Jnr wandering around looking cool while suggesting various absurd things HTC could stand for, That one might actually be worse than the Van Der Beek one, since it doesn't even tell you why you might want an HTC One, unless you're really into playing abbreviation games.
The worst of all bad matches, though, might be Kevin Bacon's deal with EE. Rather than lending the network some star power, it seems to have actively made people hate Kevin Bacon. And that's a real shame, because the old Orange adverts they used to show in cinemas were actually pretty good - they were clever and sometimes genuinely funny, playing with the image of the celebs or movie characters who appeared in them.

The Ones That Worked

Given how expensive celebrity endorsements are and how easily they can go horribly wrong, why do brands keep doing them? Well, because sometimes it works. Nikon signed up troubled supermodel Kate Moss 10 promote its Cool pix 56 camera in 2006 and seemed to do quite well out of the deal (particularly since there was a lot of coverage of the deal, either lauding Nikon for its brave decision or warning that it might all go wrong. Anything to get talked about, right?). Similarly, Gwen Stefani's collaboration with HP seemed to go reasonably well, without any drama on either Side. But actually, the celebrity endorsements that have really worked well seem to be the ones where the celeb in question is both genuinely interested in the product and has a reputation that gels with the tech brand's. Dr Drs's collaboration with Beats Electronics is a pretty good example: he's a musician, it makes headphones, and the product is a success. (Well, for most of the people involved, anyway. There's some controversy over the development of the headphones, which mostly boils down to a battle between Monster Cable and Beats Electronics over who actually developed the technology in the headphones, but Dre's involvement is a good thing either way.)
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It's too early to call, really, whether this last example will be a successor not, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say 'probably.' 3D Systems, one of the biggest 3D printing companies in the world, has just signed up as its chief creative officer. Both parties have talked up the collaboration, and while it would be easy to write this off as another one of those celeb non-jobs, it's just possible Will might manage to do something useful here. He's previously been signed up by Intel as a 'Director of Creative Innovation' and despite the odd embarrassing namedrop, that seemed to work out quite well for all concerned, with will making video diaries and exclusive songs using Ultra books.

The link between a musician-slash-record-producer and a 3D printer is maybe less obvious than between a creative multi hyphenate and a laptop, but Will does at least seem genuinely interested in the technology (there's even a 3D printer featured in the video for 'Scream and Shout'), so maybe he'll have some ideas for other ways to promote the tech.

Obviously, time will tell, but I'd be willing to bet that at the very least, Willj.am would be able to wing a conversation about 3D printing if his autocue failed, so he's already got one up on Michael Bay. The key to making these things work really does seem to depend on getting the match of personality’s right: it's less confusing to fans, and it also means the celeb in question might actually be Interested In a product on its own merits, not just for the pay cheque.