Right before the 2012 holidays, Pepsi nabbed Beyoncé as its brand ambassador in exchange for a 50-million-dollar paycheck. 

She’ll be more than window dressing, say the marketers, partnering with the beverage giant to create content and drive fan engagement.  One example:  At Super Bowl halftime, fans got their 15 minutes of fame in ad photos by shouting, head bopping, and feet tapping, solicited in advance. 

This kind of high-powered deal is rooted in the mid-2000s, when will.i.am joined Intel as director of creative innovation, deals that then branched out to include Lady Gaga’s effort with Polaroid and 50 Cent endorsement of Vitamin Water in song and in ads.

Yet how much more credible and authentic are these celebrity endorsements than the Pizza Hut and Southwest Airlines and Overstock.com employees who’ve appeared in their company ads?  In this skeptical age, most viewers, for one, know that a Sofia Vergara or a Brad Pitt aren’t true brand ambassadors; rather, they’re paid advocates for the product (or service).  Sure, they’ll drink the soda, even wear the perfume, and don the apparel. But how knowledgeable are they, really, about the product attributes, its fit with the overall brand, primary consumers and their emotions, and so on?  Do they field customer complaints (and compliments), understand supply chain issues and opportunities, and/or struggle with IT/IS problems? 

[No sour grapes here.  Any one of us would jump at the chance for a million-buck endorsement, let alone 50 times that number!]

Instead, companies looking for ambassadors – including the CPG stalwarts – might do well by scouring internal files to uncover soon-to-be stars.  Even today, when engagement is reportedly at an all-time low (Forrester noted two years ago that a high percentage of employees would not perform stand-ups for their employers), the deep credibility and trust that real people engender among consumers new and old is simply not to be dismissed. 

We’ll stop … with one more question.  Hey, new Coca-Cola Ambassador Taylor Swift:  Does Diet Coke truly understand you just because it’s in your frig?