The skinny on celebrity endorsements

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When most Canadians hear the word ‘mortgage,’ they immediately think ‘bank.’ This is more common in some regions than others. For instance, those in New Brunswick are more likely to go to a big bank to get a mortgage than those in British Columbia. While there is growth potential for the mortgage brokering industry in your community, no matter where you live, there are still too many homeowners and potential homeowners who don’t understand what we do. Many others don’t even know we exist.
A few years ago, Dominion Lending Centres decided a celebrity spokesperson was one way to change that. Love him or hate him, there is no arguing that Don Cherry is an attention-grabber. He is one of the most recognized and colourful figures in this country – and that’s even before he speaks. Cherry wasn’t chosen by Dominion Lending Centres because he’s an expert on mortgages; in fact, he admits he isn’t. He just told people there is help when it comes to getting a mortgage.
That advertising campaign did what it was supposed to do: It increased our profile. In the years since the ads first started airing, countless people have said to me, “I know hockey, but I don’t know mortgages.” The campaign increased the basic understanding of our business, but it had another positive impact – clients who sat with us for the first time felt a little more comfortable dealing with a mortgage broker because of that brand recognition.
Branding is crucial to the success of any business. Large corporations such as Coca-Cola, Tim Hortons, Scotiabank and CoverGirl continuously increase their reputations on their brand recognition. Nestle is currently using Danny DeVito and George Clooney in its Nespresso campaigns. Many companies have used celebrities to get customers’ attention. I think it’s a safe assumption that a celebrity endorsement is not cheap, but you have to weigh that cost against the success of the campaign.
Not all brokers at DLC were in favour of the Don Cherry campaign. Some have said that the campaign did nothing for their business. My question to them is: What did you do capitalize on the celebrity endorsement? Just because Don Cherry says homebuyers should speak to a mortgage broker doesn’t mean our calendars will automatically fill with appointments. But it did give us the opportunity of increased awareness, and many agents took advantage of it. They used Don Cherry’s image in local campaigns. Some put it on their vehicles and business cards; others used it in parades and in community look-alike contests. Others used his distinctive voice on radio campaigns. That opportunity led to more business and increased the awareness of Dominion Lending Centres and its brokers.
It’s hard to put a number on how well the campaign worked – not just for Dominion Lending Centres, but for the industry as a whole. No matter what company an agent works for, there is a little more understanding of our industry.
But there is more work ahead of us. We have to capitalize on this opportunity to educate Canadians about what we do. Take a minute when you first meet a client to explain how your business works. We have to convince clients that what we’re doing is not unique. Insurance brokers have been doing it for years, and when we want to get insurance for our car, we’ll most likely go to a broker. The insurance industry is constantly reminding Canadians of the service they provide through television advertising – why can’t we?
As mortgage brokers, we can’t expect Don Cherry to make us successful. In the end, the product and service have to be good. But a celebrity endorsement can open a door and get us to our goals more quickly.

Kevin Babin is the broker/manager for Dominion Lending Centres in the Maritimes. Prior to entering the mortgage industry, he worked in television news for 25 years, finishing that career with Global Television.

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