Craig Briggs
Jul 8, 2010

Celebrities repel consumers, but advertisers still love them

Craig Briggs (pictured), MD at Brandimage Asia, says using celebrities in ads is a great idea, but only if the communications idea is the real hero.

Celebrities repel consumers, but advertisers still love them

A recent poll by Reader's Digest magazine found that consumers find celebrity advertising ineffective.

For Asian marketers, this must serve as a shock, since so many brands across the region rely on celebrities to hawk their products. This over-reliance on celebrities to gain consumer attention is an increasingly flawed method of advertising.

Celebrities can be tremendously effective and a worthy association and investment, if they are used properly. The problem is, that in the overwhelming majority of such advertising, the celebrities supplant the ideas in the commercial.

When I worked in Japan, I attended a brain-storming meeting with the creative team for a television commercial for Johnson & Johnson. The entire discussion was spent reviewing a list of celebrities that we could consider for the commercial. There was no discussion of an idea or concept - that would come later - if at all. This was the first meeting, not a final concept presentation or pre-production meeting.

This demonstrates a common tendency to rely on celebrities too heavily, without considering the brand first. It often results in making the communications benefit the celebrity first, and the brand second, if at all. Not only is it lazy, it's also potentially risky (see Tiger Woods and Gatorade, General Motors, Nike, et al).

It's not that celebrities cannot be effective in a brand's communications - they can. A recent example is Turkish Airlines that features actor Kevin Costner in their television advertising. The beauty and power of this ad is not the selection of Costner, but the idea itself - that Turkish Airlines makes you feel special - like a star. You could drop in any number of celebrities and the idea still holds firm. It's among the best airline adverts I have seen in years (although it does lose some of its magic in print).

Unless your brand name is Air Jordan, Ralph Lauren or Virgin Atlantic, you may want to carefully reconsider your celebrity endorsements. You need to make sure that your advertising concepts are founded on a central idea and that the idea fits with the brand platform.

The use of a celebrity is potentially a great idea if, and only if, you consider the brand and the communications idea first, and the celebrity second.


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