Pretty much in all of the cases I've written about, the pattern has been more or less the same: a famous celebrity endorses a famous brand. But is it common at all for celebrities to endorse emerging products and services, not yet known to large audiences?
Believe it or not, it actually happens quite often. Sometimes it's a carefully planned strategy called co-branding. Startups reach out to celebrities, or bigger, already famous brands, and get their attention as endorsers or business partners. Read more on this in my article 6 things startups should consider when partnering with brands. Or, it can happen by pure chance, for instance, if your brand is discovered -- and liked -- by someone like Oprah Winfrey. In the business world, Oprah is known for her generosity toward products and services she likes. She doesn't hesitate to mention them either in her shows, or in the O! magazine. This is what has happened to a Belgian brand of chocolate, Newtree, (( disclaimer: Newtree is my former client )) when it was noticed by Oprah. Needless to say, it was a pleasant surprise to the company.
Sometimes celebrity endorsements go beyond such generosity toward brands. For example, Hollywood actors Leonardo di Caprio and Ashton Kutcher have actually invested in several startups. With that, without actually acting as product spokesmen, or appearing in billboards next to the brands in question, they have de facto endorsed them, simply because they are so famous. Di Caprio has shared both his cash -- and his fame -- with a company called Mobli. Kutcher has invested in a range of startups, such as Foursquare, Hipmunk and Airbnb. ((The latter, by the way, has recently acquired Crashpadder, previously featured in the series of Funky Brand Interviews))
Generally speaking, if a celebrity talks about your little-known brand, it is a very positive development likely to boost your product sales. And by "talks" I mean tweeting, facebooking or mentioning your product in the open domain. Which means that celebrity endorsements can actually take place spontaneously, without you hiring the celebrity in question.
However, if you have enough cash to pay to somebody famous, then you enter into a more official co-branding partnership. In this case, be sure that it makes perfect sense for your brand, as celebrity endorsement are likely to have long-lasting effects on your brand in the long term. More on this can be found in my article 3 co-branding rules for bigger profits.