Johal launched underfivepounds.com in 2005, retailing discounted accessories. In 2006 he decided to concentrate on clothing instead, and while he knew the concept of getting fashionable clothes for under a fiver was a winner, he wanted to run a PR campaign that would kick-start sales and place the brand firmly in the public consciousness.
To guarantee instant media attention, Johal decided on celebrity endorsement. Wanting a celeb who would be recognisable to his target market, he concentrated his efforts on TV stars and soaps.
Shobna Gulati played Sunita, a prominent character in Coronation Street: “She ticked all the right boxes: appearing in such a long-standing soap gave her credibility, which rubbed off on us, and she was aspirational but accessible – people could relate to her, and she looked great in the clothes,” says Johal.
But hiring a celebrity doesn’t come cheap. Johal says he spent about £30,000 on the campaign, including Shobna’s fees, hair and makeup, Toast PR’s time setting up the deal as well as all the photography.
It was money well spent. After a picture of her decked out in underfivepounds fashion was aired on morning television, the firm’s website was bombarded with interest. “We were getting over 40,000 unique page impressions an hour. Our site went down for a few minutes because we were so overloaded! The story was picked up by the nationals, local papers as well as several lifestyle shows.”
Sales rose to unprecedented levels only hours after press hit, bringing turnover up to £5m in the firm’s first year’s trading.
“I wouldn’t advise this route for everyone,” says Johal. “Celebrity endorsement only works when the product itself is appealing: using a celebrity to launch a construction company probably wouldn’t have much success. And you usually have to hire a PR company to organise the campaign, which means more money.”
“If you are considering contracting a celebrity for a longer term, you have to be sure that they behave themselves and don’t drag your brand through the mud. Exposure is exposure, but not if it compromises your brand values.”
Best avoid Jade Goody, then.