Under Armour’s collaboration with Dwayne Johnson tops list of the best-matched celebrity endorsements

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson stars in Under Armour's "Will Find A Way" ad campaign, April 2018
Under Armour

Wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne Johnson's endorsement deal with Under Armour has been ranked as the best-matched celebrity-brand partnership in the fashion and retail sectors.

A list produced by research company Spotted and published Friday rates celebrity endorsements out of 100, taking into account factors such as public perception, whether the star's audience overlaps with the brand's in terms of age, gender, income and location, and how risky a celebrity's behavior might be.

Tommy Hilfger's work with the model Winnie Harlow comes second in the ranking, scoring 97.2, followed by the homeware store Crate and Barrel, whose partnership with actress Reese Witherspoon scores 96.1.

Johnson, known as "The Rock," started his partnership with Under Armour in January 2016 and a Project Rock 1 sneaker released in May 2018 sold out in less than 24 hours, according to a post on Johnson's Instagram account. He also starred in Under Armour's "Will Finds A Way" ad campaign, which launched in April.

Mirai Nagasu (l) and Adam Rippon (r) attend a DSW event on June 27, 2018 in New York City.
Bryan Bedder | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

"He represents very little risk, he has an incredibly high audience match with the Under Armour customer base and so he has very high resonance, recognition and trust scores — they believe him, they relate to him, they trust him," Spotted founder and CEO Janet Comenos told CNBC on the phone.

NBA star Stephen Curry's partnership with Under Armour also does well, ranking 13th on the list and scoring 89.2. Curry wore Nike shoes when he entered the basketball league in 2009 but switched to Under Armour in 2013 in a deal reported to be worth $4 million a year.

Curry's shoe line with Under Armour was predicted to sell more than LeBron James's Nike footwear back in 2016, at $160 million versus James's $150 million, but Under Armour has more recently seen its U.S. market share slip.

The model Winnie Harlow walks the runway at the Tommy Hilfiger show during Milan Fashion Week on February 25, 2018 in Milan, Italy.
Pietro D'aprano | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Brands spend vast amounts of money hiring celebrities to endorse their products, an estimated $35 billion in 2017 in the U.S. alone, according to MarketWatch. But with big names can come big risks, such as the 2009 scandal involving golfer Tiger Woods' car crash and several alleged affairs, which at the time saw sponsors Gillette, Gatorade, AT&T and Accenture cease their involvement with him, and cost management company IMG $4.6 million in fees.

Hip fashion label Rag & Bone comes fourth in the Spotted listing for its partnership with "plus-size" model Ashley Graham, who works for the company. It scored 96, in spite of the collaboration being criticized because the fashion line's jeans were not initially available in larger sizes. It has since confirmed to Teen Vogue magazine that it will extend the sizes of its most popular products from November.

This PR blip hasn't affected people's perceptions of its partnership with Graham, Comenos said. "It was handled pretty quickly and it gave consumers a reason to trust her and to trust the brand more," she told CNBC.

Gal Gadot's ads for Reebok under its "Be More Human" campaign also hit the mark, coming eighth in the ranking and scoring 92.8. There is a very high correlation between the people Gadot influences and Reebok's audience, and the brand has done well to hire her after searches and social media mentions of her peaked in March 2018 after she presented an Academy Award, according to Spotted.

When done right, products endorsed by, or named after, celebrities can pay back. Harvey Keitel, for example, helped U.K. insurance company Direct Line turn its business around when he started starring in its ads in 2014, as fixer Winston Wolf, reprising his well-known character from the movie "Pulp Fiction."

Marketing director Mark Evans said that the company was suffering double-digit declines in 2013, and by 2016, it was growing at 31 percent, partly due to its celebrity marketing campaign.

"This is, by far, the single biggest most effective thing that we've done… What we've managed to do is take a really basic concept of a celebrity talking about product features and make it seem somewhat sort of epic and (into) much bigger storytelling," he told CNBC on the phone.

Comenos started Spotted after interviewing chief marketing officers about how they chose celebrities for campaigns, finding that they either decided on gut instinct, relied on agencies who had an existing relationship with a celebrity or because a spouse or child had an affinity with the famous face.

The ranking combines qualitative consumer research with audience data from sites such as Facebook and Instagram with Google Search. It also analyzes social media posts for positive or negative sentiment.

The top 15 celebrity endorsement deals in the fashion and retail industries

Source: Spotted.

1 Under Armour and Dwayne Johnson – 100

2 Tommy Hilfiger and Winnie Harlow – 97.2

3 Crate & Barrel (homeware store) and Reese Witherspoon – 96.1

4 Rag & Bone (fashion label) and Ashley Graham – 96

5 Crocs and Drew Barrymore – 96

6 Amazon and Anthony Hopkins – 95.2

7 Hugo Boss and Chris Hemsworth – 93.1

8 Reebok and Gal Gadot – 92.8

9 Rolex and Roger Federer – 92.7

10 Lord & Taylor (department store) and Christie Brinkley – 91.6

11 DSW (footwear) and Mirai Nagasu (Olympic figure skater) – 91.4

12 Adidas and Lionel Messi – 90.6

13 Guess and Jennifer Lopez – 90.4

14 Under Armour and Stephen Curry – 89.2

15 Dolce and Gabbana and Emilia Clarke – 88.6