Stars Might Shine for You … or Fall Fast

Oct 23, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Adam Armbruster

Celebrity talent in a commercial, be it a local personality or a nationally known star, can instantly increase your brand’s television campaign recognition level. But plan carefully, as using a hired gun to sell your product can bring with it some unexpected twists.

We’ve seen the good, the bad and the not-so-pretty outcomes of celebrity endorsement television campaigns. Surprisingly, it usually is not the celebrity that is the deciding factor in the success or failure of the campaign; rather, it is the client’s initial thought process that went into the planning of the campaign.

First, let’s list the benefits of the successful use of celebrity talent in a television commercial:

Instant recognition. The consumer will notice the television message itself, thus ensuring that your commercial makes a personal and highly emotional impact on the viewer. This alone could be well worth the additional investment.

Immediate cut-through. The clutter of surrounding ads works against a marketer. Any feature of the campaign that takes the message above those of the competition is a direct benefit. “Talking head” celebrities can help you as they tend to hold viewers’ attention while they sell the attributes of your brand.

Implied preference: The celebrity likes the product … or so we assume by his or her endorsement. If we already enjoy the books, movies or athletic talent of the endorser, research shows that we are more inclined to buy the brand of product. (Think Michael Jordan’s significant positive impact on Gatorade sports drink sales throughout the 1990s.)

“Cool” factor. Having a famous person speak for your brand makes it cool to a certain potion of an audience. The percentage size of this audience is directly reflective of the endorser’s current popular audience size.

Competitive advantage. Your endorser gives instant credibility to your brand. This is especially true if your business is in an otherwise bland category. Think William Shatner for Priceline.com. Now try to quickly think of three other online travel agencies. It’s tough! Perhaps it’s because these other companies use generic icons and standard product/service images.

But just when it looks like a no-brainer to hire that celebrity you’ve been pursuing, it is also clear that there are liabilities to using a celebrity endorsement.

Among them:

Affluent consumer resistance: A study by the Miami-based American Affluence Research Center, the results of which were released in June, asked high-income American consumers whether their interest in a particular brand had been increased during the prior five years by an association with a celebrity. Among women, the category most influenced by celebrity endorsement was personal cosmetics; about 22 percent of respondents said their purchasing habits had been influenced by a celebrity.

Among men, only 19 percent said they had been influenced in their golf purchases, and 11 percent took celebrities into consideration when buying women’s designer clothes. The highest average celebrity buying impact score for all remaining purchases was 8 percent.

Does this mean that high-income Americans are not influenced by celebrities? According to the research, yes. But then why do so many high-income executives buy Nike golf balls? Are upscale men just not admitting that they are affected by celebrity endorsement? Could Tiger Woods’ endorsement of Nike golf balls have had impact in their decision-making process?

If your product is upscale, think carefully whether celebrity endorsement is right for you since the research will only ever report on what people say versus what they do. (Remember, Americans also deny being influenced by any advertising in general. Yet we are the most brand-conscious consumers in the world.)

Other things to think about:

Celebrity personal responsibility issues. We’ve all seen the embarrassment that can occur when a company spends a vast amount of money to hire a spokesperson only to have their new celebrity endorser show up soon after in the supermarket tabloids in a compromising personal situation. Is your potential celebrity predictable in his off-screen behavior?

Overselling. Using a celebrity in a television campaign can overshadow the brand if too much of the message is spent on the face of the endorser and too little on the key elements of a successful television commercial. We’ve all seen commercials that are very engaging but score poorly in recall tests by focus groups. In fact, some consumer products using celebrities in ads have even scored a zero in brand-recall scoring.

Opportunistic hiring: Clients can insist on hiring a specific celebrity simply because they have access to the celebrity through friends or acquaintances. Using a celebrity simply because of affordability or convenience is a mistake.

Changing tastes. When it comes to celebrity endorsement, your brand will rise (and fall) with the celebrity’s career successes and failures. Hitching your brand to the career track of a “celebrity brand” has its own issues.

Ensure that you make a wise decision in regards to celebrity endorsement of your product.

Consider using professional focus groups to score consumer interest in the celebrity and find out the Q Score of the celebrity. Also, study the overall buying patterns of your current consumer and cross-tabulate what other brands they purchase and in what other categories. Then research which of these other brands are celebrity-endorsed. From this additional step you will be able to identify more acceptable local or national celebrity images that will serve to strengthen your brand and minimize potential negative issues.

After all, pushing your brand past all of your competitors and into the forefront of the consumer’s mind already takes all of your innovation, creativity and advertising budget-with the right circumstances in place.

Adam Armbruster is a partner in the Red Bank, N.J.-based retail and broadcasting consulting firm Eckstein, Summers, Armbruster and Co. He can be reached at adam@esacompany.com or at 941-928-7192.