Celebrity Endorsements Don’t Pay Off in 21st Century Advertising

celebrity endorsements

Including a celebrity in an advertising campaign used to be considered a tried and true recipe for success. History is rife with memorable print ads and television commercials featuring prominent public figures. But the perception that entertainers automatically increase sales has always been controversial to say the least. Getting an actor or musician to deliver an endorsement usually costs millions of dollars, far more than a typical creative. The rise of the digital domain has also changed the way consumers respond to marketing, and some feel that today’s viewers are too sophisticated to fall for the same old tricks. The viability of paid tweets may usher in the death of personality-driven promotions, and a new Ace Metrix study confirms everyone’s worst fears about this antiquated model.

Ace Metrix examined over 2,000 celebrity ads over the course of a year to determine their effect on consumer behavior and gauge their overall popularity. They discovered that while a handful of campaigns produced positive results, the vast majority simply were not worth the substantial financial investment they required. Overall, non-celebrity ads outperformed those with celebrities in every measured category, including likability, persuasion, desire, and even watchability. The last classification is somewhat surprising given the circumstances. Many celebrity ads are designed to be entertaining rather than informative and often concentrate on the laugh factor.

There are several valid explanations for the findings and Ace Metrix reveals the key points in their data analysis. First off, celebrities tend to be polarizing figures. Anyone that garners a lot of media attention is bound to provoke a strong reaction in the audience; however, that emotional response may be negative, which alters the individual’s perception of the product or brand. Ace uses Tiger Woods as a case study because of the turmoil in his personal life. All that bad press hurt his standing in the public’s eye, which ended up harming his main sponsor, Nike, by association. In essence, hiring a celebrity is a risky move because it can help or hurt your company simultaneously. Ace identifies another decisive facet: relevance. Consumers don’t like being confused, so writers have to establish some kind of clear connection between the product and the person supporting it. Otherwise, the message comes across as disingenuous at best. For example, Dr. Dre appeared in an ad for an HP laptop that he helped engineer. The ad conveyed the relationship between the rapper and the computer, which gave it the necessary credible context. On the other hand, Lance Armstrong’s Radioshack ad failed to solidify the relationship between the two entities. In fact, the ad didn’t mention the brand name or show any related images. Consequently, the campaign earned poor reviews for its puzzling content.

It’s sometimes said that celebrities are used as a substitute for imagination in marketing. This study illustrates the truth behind the old adage. Putting time and effort into generating good copy pays off in the long run, so avoid the temptation to simply toss a supermodel into the mix.

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