Justin Bieber Joins Proactiv's Zit-Geist
Justin Bieber Joins Proactiv's Zit-Geist

The new relatability quality of fame has also played into it, particularly with Proactiv. "There used to be a sizable distance between fan and celebrity. The distance has closed significantly now," Reeder says.

That ability to relate is a key quality Proactiv looks for in the stars it signs, Renker says. "If Proactiv is a product that we just pay to get endorsers for, we're going to fail," he says.

Before it signs a celebrity, Renker says the company wants to know whether the star has been using the product and if he or she can produce "before" pictures of the acne, or at least demonstrate that the celeb is aware of Proactiv. Otherwise, the company passes.

"They have to be authentic, believable and have a real story to tell," Renker says. "Katy Perry and Avril Lavigne have an amazing understanding of the product and what it does. They can tell us specifically how they've used it. They know the names of the products and told us how many of the products they use and why."

Video: Katy Perry's Proactiv ad

The running joke on the Internet after Proactiv unveiled its Bieber campaign is that the 16-year-old has flawless skin. "Yes, his skin looks great," Renker says. But he says that he's seen Bieber with acne, recalling that when he first met him, "he had a zit on his chin and a zit on his forehead." Braun remembers pointing out the zit to Renker and Bieber got mad and started to walk off. "He's just a regular 16-year-old," Braun says.

That Bieber doesn't have bad acne is partly the point. Proactiv, which has always positioned itself as skin care for the worst cases of acne, is using the artist to launch its new Proactiv Plus for Teens line, pushing the idea of stopping acne before it starts.

"The first part of the marketing campaign is be proactive, which is, 'I'm using this product every day because I don't want to get acne,' " he says. "Justin has committed to beating the problem before he gets it." (Indeed, Bieber says in his first spot that he gets acne but "I use Proactiv so my face doesn't get like that.")

SQUEAKY CLEAN

Proactiv is always on the hunt for new endorsers, seeking out a range of stars that appeal to different age groups.

Many of the orders coming in after Bieber's spots hit were from parents calling to place orders for their kids, Renker says. "Are 12-year-old girls going to buy Proactiv? No. They ask their mom to buy Proactiv. In the last 24 hours we've had mothers buying it, which is what we wanted to occur."

That's a different audience from the one that Perry and Lavigne have attracted in the last year, he says.

Even with all the research it does, choosing an endorser still ends up being a gut decision, Renker says. Although he declined to name names, not everyone has worked out. Perry, signed last year, was considered a gamble. The buzz of "I Kissed a Girl" had died down and "California Gurls" hadn't yet hit.

With Bieber, Proactiv approached him, reaching out before he put out his "My World" album. At the time, his agents asked for more money than Proactiv thought he was worth. The company changed its mind after the album's release and went back to him. (Braun remembers this differently, saying Team Bieber reapproached Proactiv after the teen started breaking out, finally agreeing to the deal after Proactiv said it would make a donation to Bieber's favored charity Pencils of Promise.)

The company watches music charts and monitors online appeal of different artists, Renker says. Proactiv looks at the number of followers that artists have on Facebook and Twitter and the number of YouTube hits their videos receive.

"You constantly have to be working to find someone who can keep you current," Renker says.

Learn more about the artist branding space by attending the Billboard/Adweek Music & Advertising conference Sept. 15-16 in Chicago. To register, go to billboardevents.com.