By Will Adoasi, Vitae London — Celebrity endorsement has played a major role in building the Vitae brand – but it didn’t happen on its own. We didn’t start with lots of connections but we had a strategy, we planned and we followed through.
We created a list of celebrities to contact who shared similar beliefs and passions to us. We divided them into sectors and celebrity status. We reached out using a variety of channels; social media, email, via the website etc. We sent them a short, friendly message clearly outlining our idea and proposal. We followed up if they didn’t reply, but we made sure not to spam them.
Reaching out to those celebrities through social media bagged us endorsements from the likes of singer Emeli Sandé and radio DJ Yinka Bokinni. From there, word spread quickly.
Vitae grew, we supplied more school uniforms to children in Africa than ever before, and soon Richard Branson took notice. I was invited to become a Virgin Startup Ambassador and meet Branson at his house. He seemed impressed with the business idea and the watches themselves, going on to personally endorse the brand on a number of occasions.
We focused on nurturing good relationships with a few big-name and/or well-connected celebrities at first. Not only did they lend you more credibility when we met other celebrities, but they also told their connections, growing our supporter base organically.
Sometimes it’s simply about being in the right place at the right time and grabbing the opportunity. For example, I happened to run into rapper Big Sean in Nandos in London. I shared our vision and he was glad to be involved.
Everyone we've interacted with has been extremely positive about the business. They love the style of the watches and the simplicity of the design. But, more importantly, they were inspired by the fact that we're using a fashion brand to change lives. They're often surprised with the power and simplicity of our business concept.
What you have to remember is that celebrities get asked for endorsements every day – you can’t expect them to support your brand simply because you asked nicely. They’re busy people. If you want them to sit up and take notice, then you have to have a unique and compelling selling proposition. Something that makes you different and interesting.
For us, it’s the charity element. We support local South African charity House of Wells in their mission to get poorer kids into education. But we don’t talk about “giving 10% to charity”, because it lacks tangibility. We talk about giving kids two school uniforms, allowing them to attend school and get an education. People can picture a kid at school and what that means to that child and their family.
When I first met Richard Branson I kicked myself for forgetting to take a watch with me. Later, I was lucky that the guys at Virgin asked me to be on a panel with Richard. That time I made triple-sure that I took a watch with me. I gave him the watch in front of a live audience at the panel discussion. In turn, he not only paid for the watch with a wad of cash, he also gave me his watch in exchange!
It was a great moment and one I’m fortunate to have captured on camera. No doubt that will go down as one of the high points of my career!
If I had to sum up my advice in a single word it would be: belief. If you truly believe in what you’re doing, that energy, that enthusiasm, will become infectious. Everyone you meet and speak to about your idea will share your excitement and, most importantly, will come to believe in you as well. And celebrities are just like other customers – if they believe in you and your brand, they will support you.
Will Adoasi is founder of Vitae London, an ethical watch brand that offers fashionable watches at affordable prices in order to advance social justice.
Vitae London works within several South African provinces where education is free, but much of the youth are unable to take advantage of such learning opportunities due to their lack of access to school equipment, such as uniforms and shoes, which are required to attend school.
Each watch purchased from Vitae London’s classic range of watches supplies a child with two sets of school uniform, a bag and footwear to see them through the year.