Will Nicole Kidman take Etihad’s brand to new heights?

Etihad Airways recently hosted a special event full of razzmatazz to launch their new global TV campaign, including an on-stage interview with the airline's new celebrity endorser, Nicole Kidman. It's an interesting example of a brand attempting to use a celebrity as a brand property. You can watch the ad by clicking below on the blog, or by clicking here

Here, I look at what is needed for a successful celebrity brand property, and how Etihad (National airline of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)) is doing so far.

1. Tap into relevant memory structure

Etihad is paying more than a few free flights to get the services of Ms Kidman to tap into "borrowed memory structure". By featuring Nicole Kidman, Etihad hopes to borrow some of her positive associations and transfer these to their brand. As a relatively new brand, launched only in 2003, this is a way of trying to accelerate the creation of memory structure for the brand.

Nicole Kidman seems a pretty good choice. She stands for elegance, success and sophistication according to extensive research I carried out (asking Mrs Taylor). And these are brand values that Etihad is trying to build, according to the company's marketing chief in his presentation at the campaign launch.

The other important thing about Nicole is her global stature in markets like America and Asia where the brand is trying to grow its business. 

2. Be Distinctive

Transferring positive equity from a celebrity to a brand is not as easy as just sticking the star in your communication. The brands needs to find a distinctive way of harnessing the celebrity's star power. This is especially true when, as is this case with Nicole, the star is used by multiple brands.

The Etihad communication seems to me to lack distinctiveness. It has plenty of glamour and production values, but where is the Etihad brand "imprint"? Contrast this ad with the Baz Luhrmann masterpiece for Chanel Nº 5, where the brand iconography is subtly but clearly woven into the visual narrative.

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3. Sell the sausage, not just the sizzle

"Celebrity Sells" was the title of a book by Hamish Pringle, and it sums up the single objective of forking out a load of cash to hitch your brand to a star: it has to help you SMS (sell more stuff). And to do this, your celebrity should be selling the product "sausage", and not just be there for the emotional "sizzle" they bring.

The Etihad ad starts not with flying, but in a library where Nicole picks and reads from a book. It then shows various cityscapes, with only glimpses of the flying experience itself. Second, the message communicated is a rather high-level one about "Flying Re-Imagined" rather than fully dramatising the Etihad experience. And this seems a missed opportunity, given that Etihad has what I understand to be a great product. For example, the First Class Residence is an apartment in the sky, complete with butler, double bed and shower room! Etihad also wins global prizes in airline awards, a source "social proof" that the brand doesn't seem to be fully leveraging. 

I'm guessing the ad agency will say that the brand's YouTube channel does the job of selling the detail on the product sausage. But I think more of this could have been baked into a distinctive brand story. A brilliant example of how to combine sausage and sizzle in a highly distinctive campaign is Virgin Atlantic, as I posted on here. You see this ad once and it could only be for Virgin, thanks to the "red hot" hostesses and tongue-in-cheek humour.

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4. Fresh consistency

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Etihad will be creating "fresh consistency". It takes an estimated two to three years of consistent communication to create memory structure for a brand. Freshness comes from using the celebrity in different ways to help communicate different "chapters" of the brand story. However, less than half of brands using celebrities as brand properties stick with them for three years or more, according the marketing director research we did last year. In contrast, shapes, colours and logos have a much better track record on consistency. Part of the challenge is of course the high cost of using celebrities like Ms Kidman.

A rare example of fresh consistency is Sainsbury's use of Jamie Oliver over 10 years and multiple campaigns, as I posted on here. Jamie became strongly linked with the brand and became a valuable and distinctive brand property.

In conclusion, Etihad has picked well when choosing a celebrity, but needs to work harder at transforming Nicole Kidman into a truly distinctive brand property and then stick with her for three years or more.