How many of us even remember Earl Scheib? No matter. The point is: What the hell does it matter to anyone that Earl Scheib endorses something? (…which he did not. He’s long dead, of course.)
If you’ve been active with any kind of established organization, or even one of those one-body orgs that people sometimes start, you might get approached for an “endorsement” from time to time. Whether or not to spend any time even hearing about it involves a number of factors, which I’ll try to sort out here. Let’s start with some examples and try to analyze them by what they accomplish for the endorser or the endorsee, and what they cost to each.
Standard commercial endorsement:
Bill Cosby endorses Jello Pudding
Benefit to Jello:
— Recognizable face & voice, generally associated with easy laughs, appealing to kids and those who feed them (the target market), will grab attention for the commercial. Should get more attention for the brand, and increase sales
Benefit to Cosby:
— Got paid (pretty well, near the height of his career)
Cost to Jello:
— Paying Cosby and producing & airing the commercial
— Slight chance that if Cosby has some scandal down the road, people will associate him with Jello Pudding in their minds (Note: This risk is far higher in the Age of Google and the Wayback Machine than it was decades ago. Anyone can Google a name and find something to make into something, though it was nothing many years ago.)
Cost to Bill Cosby:
— His time
— Slight risk that if Jello Pudding gets a bad name down the road somehow, he will be associated with it (See “Note” above.)
— Slight cheapening of his name as an entertainer
Second commercial example:
Levi Johnston endorses pistachios
Most of the same things apply, with some differences.
(1) Levi Johnston is probably a much less recognizable face than Bill Cosby was at the time, known for something entirely different. Far less inherent entertainment value in his voice or manner. In fact, he doesn’t even talk in the commercial. He will therefore get paid much less.
(2) While broad appeal was one of Cosby’s features, Johnston might actually be a polarizing figure. His name speaks controversy. This is used in the commercial. While pistachios are recovering from a salmonella scare, Levi’s own troubles can be used in a pun-like way to refer to “protection”. It’s a one-joke campaign with no staying power, but succeeds in implying some kind of relevance between the personality and the product.
(3) While Cosby’s name gets cheapened by the commercial, Johnston has no name to speak of, and might actually benefit from the exposure.
Third commercial example:
Lauren Hutton endorses a variety of cosmetics and skin care products.
(no good examples online to link to)
Differences from the above two:
(1) Unlike Cosby and Johnston, Hutton, a long-time model, might actually be expected to know something about what she’s advertising. There’s a bit of “authority” to it.
(2) While having none of Cosby’s inherent entertainment value, Hutton’s face is very recognizable to women who might have looked at fashion magazines (target market again). Johnston’s face is much less recognizable.
(3) Unlike Cosby, Hutton can’t cheapen her name with a commercial. Her appearance alone is what she sells, and everybody knows it.
Slightly less commercial example:
Bill Clinton endorses Gavin Newsom for the Dem candidate for Governor of California
(Newsom later withdrew, but that’s not relevant for my purpose here.)
While not strictly being asked to buy a product, donors and voters in the primary are being asked to give something, so many similarities apply between this and the commercial examples. Some differences:
(1) Clinton is not being paid, but is probably repaying a debt incurred when Newsom endorsed Hillary.
(2) As with Hutton, Clinton probably has some number of people who think he has good judgment about some things. He carries a bit of “authority” to some people. In politics, this seems to carry much more weight than in commercial advertising, since the consumers (voters) know much less about the products (candidates) than they do about something they can buy, take home, and use.
(3) The opposing “product” is known: Jerry Brown. This endorsement is aimed at people who might have a simple either/or choice to make. That means it can actually make enemies.
(4) Cost in time to the endorser is very different. It’s not the time spent in a studio in front of a camera, trying take after take. Rather, it’s the cost of looking into Newsom’s background and assessing the chances of embarrassment down the road. This is more staff time than Clinton’s time. It’s significant because reputation and possible cheapening of one’s name are more important in politics, which brings up….
(5) Clinton and Newsom are both known for sexual peccadillos. Such an endorsement carries some risk of setting up the late-night comics a little too well, reducing the “authority” aspect of it.
So, in comparing all these various endorsement scenarios, we’ve seen a number of variables among them. I’ll try to boil them down to another simple list.
Points in favor, for the endorsee:
(1) Inherent attention-getting value of the endorser
(2) “Authority” of the endorser
(3) Opportunity for symbiotic entertainment value between endorser and product
Points against, for the endorsee:
(1) Cost of production for advertising
(2) Cost of paying endorser
(3) Reputation risk to product
Points in favor for the endorser:
(1) Personal profit for the endorser, in payment of some kind
(2) Possible beneficial public exposure for the endorser
Points against, for the endorser
(1) Cost in endorser’s time
(2) Reputation risk to endorser
(3) Possible cheapening of endorser’s name.
This blog is generally about small, local activist groups and how they operate. So let’s try to apply some of this.
Someone wants your group’s “endorsement” for something they’re doing. How much attention do you pay to it?
The first question is: Why do they want it? This can vary a lot with the situation. Let’s dismiss one situation right away:
Case #1: BIG NATIONAL ORG (or someone trying to be one) asks for endorsements of their actions to be submitted online, through their web site. Generally requires you to fill in contact info.
Points against for the endorsee are negligible. They’re not paying you anything, and collecting endorsements online has no cost. If anyone submits an embarrassing endorsement (“Charlie Manson endorses a march to bring the troops home”), they don’t have to publish it.
Points in favor for the endorsee might be very weak, but with no risk or cost to weigh against them, they have little reason not to do it, as long as the webmaster is happy setting it up. With rare exceptions, the people and orgs who endorse will have no name to speak of. There will be little reason to bother publishing the list of endorsers. The real purpose is to gather a mailing list that they will later use to solicit donations and/or participation in future actions.
So the points in favor for the endorser are:
— get on their mailing list, if that’s what you want and you’re not already on it by some other route
— possible exposure of your group’s name if they publish the list of endorsers (very weak, since probably only the NSA bots ever read such lists)
Points against for the endorser:
— get on their mailing list, when there’s nothing unique and interesting that they send out
— time spent deciding whether your group wants to be associated with it
That “time spent deciding” can be widely variable with what kind of person or group you are. If you’re one person, it’s very convenient to make decisions. If you’re a group that invites broad participation and tries to have democratic processes, you can waste huge amounts of time in meetings and email discussion over it. All this just to have your secretary get on their mailing list, and maybe have your group’s name in an obscure corner of a web site somewhere.
Case #2: Obvious endorsement is obvious
Orange County Gardening Expo
Gardening Association of Orange County
Orange County Shovel & Hoe Society
Garden Suppliers of Orange County
Get my point?
Though the world abounds in such advertising, would anyone’s decision about going to this Expo hinge on whether one of these groups sponsored it?
Of course not.
The sponsors are mentioned in the advertising simply as part of the sponsorship deal, hoping to get their names a little more exposure. Sponsorship is a very different thing from endorsement. The sponsors are paying to have their names & products advertised.
We see something similar in our own non-commercial realm:
March Against the War!
People Against the War
Moms Against the War
Veterans Against the War
People of Faith Against the War
After a while doesn’t it just look kinda silly? Does anyone expect Moms Against the War to be against a March Against the War? See #5 under the Clinton-Newsom endorsement.
Of course, it’s only to advertise for the groups endorsing. Having them listed in the emails and flyers, someone hopes, will bring new members into those groups.
It does nothing for the March itself, and in fact can take up valuable space on the flyer, and look pretty tedious in the email. So when the initiative to compile a long list of endorsers comes from the people organizing the march, it makes me wonder why. And are they even aware of how it looks to take up so much space in the advertising with endorsements?
Ok, I’m going to try to make a guess or two at what’s in someone’s mind when he goes around trying to gather “endorsements” for this sort of thing.
The organizers feel insecure about their name or reputation, and maybe they hope to add some appearance of “legitimacy” with the endorsers’ names?
In such a case, if the organizers are correct about their insecurity, it would say that the endorsers could be cheapening their own names to endorse. (There are exceptions, if the event looks promising.)
Maybe the organizers think they’re being generous in offering to put an org’s name on the advertising as an endorser.
Maybe they’re right, if there’s going to be some serious advertising, and the event promises not to be a bust. Then it’s something for the would-be endorser to consider.
Now, let’s consider it from the other side: An org (or person) wants to run around endorsing everything in sight. Most likely, it’s a group that really wants its name publicized by any means possible, meaning it probably doesn’t have much of a name to start with, and the endorsement certainly won’t mean much.
Sponsorship would mean a lot more. That means giving money or some kind of material support to the project. As an event organizer, I’d be looking for sponsorship from a group with no reputation (unless, of course, the “endorser” is a group that I want to do a favor for.) Space in advertising can be precious.
Organizers often forget this when putting their advertising together: the inverse relation between quantity and quality in the content. I see this often with speakers hosted by a university, where much of the flyer is taken up with a long list of the speaker’s academic degrees, publications, etc. NO ONE CARES about most of it, yet somehow, someone feels obliged to include it all. It looks kind of.. uh… Is “defensive” the right word?
From the point of view of the no-reputation endorser, it’s just a chance to get associated with something good, and it’s rather important that a no-name org be selective. The world is full of “events” going on that would NOT add to an endorser’s reputation, and might even subtract from it.
— Remember #3 under the Clinton/Newsom example. Is it possible that there’s a competing event, and you could make enemies with an endorsement?
— Remember my note about the Age of Google. Who else is endorsing the event? Do you want to appear on a list with NAMBLA or the Church of Satan? Didn’t think so. Some orgs that sound innocuous today could become poison in a couple of years for reasons that no one could imagine now.
This is where the heavy costs in time kick in. An org with democratic processes can spend a lot of time discussing whether an endorsement is worth making. Remember how precious meeting time is.
An endorsee who seems very focused on gathering many endorsements would indicate that your group’s name would only appear in a long list that no one would read, lowering the quality of what you would get for all that time spent in the meeting.
Earl Scheib wouldn’t care. I hope we do.
So when WOULD I make/accept an endorsement?
If you’re deciding whether to give an endorsement:
— Do you know the people organizing it? Have you been to their meetings, seen them in action? Do you trust them not to make whatever they’re planning an embarrassment?
— Is the cause apparently served by the event, or the list of demands, something that you will be happy being on record associated with …forever?
— Are the other endorsers, sponsors, and organizers likely to be people you don’t mind sharing a line of text with …forever?
— Do the organizers plan on advertising your endorsement enough that there’s actually a reason to bother endorsing?
— Does your group have plenty of time to spare for whatever process is needed to determine the answers to the above?
If you’re deciding whether to seek/accept/advertise an endorsement:
— Does the person/group in question have a good name among people who are likely to look at your advertising?
— If you only have maybe four or five endorsements mentioned in your advertising, would you want this to be one of them?
— Is there plenty of time to get the name into the advertising?
— Is sponsorship not an option in this case? (i.e., does the group have no resources to contribute, or do you have no need for such contributions?)