Über-entertainer Beyoncé even launched her own limited-edition Samsung phone, the B'Phone, in 2007. Analyst Wu calls such phones risky ventures. "Even if the celebrity has a huge fan base, there probably aren't many hardcore fans," she notes. "And within those, only a limited number will be in the market for a new phone." Samsung says it has no plans to launch another celebrity-branded phone in the U.S.
Celebrity athletes are equally in demand as public faces for cellphones. Tennis player Maria Sharapova, formerly the inspiration for Motorola's hot-pink RAZR, now serves as Sony Ericsson's global brand ambassador. David Beckham frequently promotes Motorola's RAZR2 while competing abroad. In February, he made a pit stop in Seoul, where Motorola has struggled to unseat Korean rivals Samsung and LG. One local newspaper that covered the event noted, "Beckham Comes to Rescue Motorola."
Though the practice permeates the U.S., Europe and East Asia, India is the global capital of celebrity cellphone promotions. The country is blessed with two unique characteristics: the world's fastest-growing cellphone market and a plethora of homegrown superstars. That has phone makers competing to snap up the most bankable Bollywood stars, hoping their legions of fans will follow. Motorola recently signed Abhishek Bachchan, whose celebrity stems from his own acting career; the legacy of his actor father, Amitabh Bachchan; and the fame of his actress wife, Aishwarya Rai. As recently as March, Bachchan had been the face of LG in India.
Samsung has actor/director Aamir Khan, whose work, the company says, mirrors its brand's "qualities of innovation, change, discovery, self-expression and excellence in performance." Even Nokia, which abstains from celebrity marketing elsewhere in the world, has a partnership with Bollywood icon Shah Rukh Khan that includes TV commercials and sponsorship of Khan's cricket team.
Not every celebrity wants to be associated with a phone, even the latest, coolest models. Some endorse phones on the sly, limiting endorsements to companies based abroad. Actor Chris Noth -- of Sex and the City and Law & Order fame -- represents LG's Secret phone in Australia, halfway around the world from his New York home.
Adamson approves the use of celebrities to promote products that mesh with their own images -- musicians for music phones, for instance. But he warns, "Using celebrities for any brand-building is tricky--the risk is that the consumer remembers the celebrity, but not the brand." The other challenge: Celebrities handily sell fashion-focused products but usually fumble when promoting more functional goods.
That has led BlackBerry maker Research In Motion to feature glamorous entrepreneurs, such as fashion director Nina Garcia and hotelier Jason Pomeranc, in its ads, rather than traditional celebrities.
And it's one reason mobile operators don't use celebrities in their ads, focusing instead on the quality of their networks and the breadth of their services. Notes Adamson, "A hip, young star telling me about my carrier wouldn't be as persuasive as an engineer telling me that my phone will never drop a call."