Monday, February 7, 2011

Celebrity Endorsements Less Than Super For Brands

The celebrity endorsement is a Super Bowl ad staple; however, I wonder if the tactic is just a super waste. If I've got this right, the consumer is to perceive certain human qualities in a celebrity (that they don't actually know), and through the magic pairing of said celebrity with some brand name, the perceived human qualities are transferred to a product or service. Am I supposed to believe that Richard Lewis embodies everything good in a Snickers candy bar? I've questioned the tactics of a paid celebrity endorsement before and after watching a full slate of ads graced with some celebrity star power, I still can't see the value.

Yet, on marketing's big night, when the best of the best should be on display because simply taking the stage costs $3 million, the flimsy strategy of employing the celebrity endorsement is usually a must-have for marketers. The 2011 Super Bowl advertising was no different.

The enigmatic Eminem actually made two appearances. The first was a spot for Brisk Iced Tea. It features an animated Eminem whose tough-to-impress taste is only satisfied by the brand that pays him. Additionally, the animated rapper tries to maintain his street cred by differentiating himself from the corporate bosses he now associates with. The message is that Brisk is well, brisk—just like the rapper's attitude. Eminem's second act was very different than the first. Em drives a Chrysler (I know) through images of his hometown of Detroit. He's there to be the proud face of a proud people who embody the American work ethic. However, completely lost in the ad's tough and defiant tone is the fact that Chrysler is trying to execute a strategy of selling luxury and beauty in an automobile.

Best Buy does a better job and is more direct in its purpose. Its mission is to introduce a buy-back program that will entice consumers to upgrade their older technology for the newer stuff. However, communicating this strong marketing strategy is not as effective as it could be when mixed with the distraction of the Ozzy and Bieber show. The hook is that one's old and one's new, get it? I believe the resources would have been better used communicating facts about the actual marketing program, not just making associations to it.

Faith Hill appeared in this year's timely Teleflora advertisement, which says nothing unique about the brand and doesn't even attempt to associate Ms. Hill in any way. If Faith was replaced with any female extra, the context and message are completely unchanged. The ad would be as is, just way cheaper to make.

This year, spokeswoman extraordinaire Kim Kardashian was pushing Skechers Shape-Ups toning shoes. I guess a high-priced Hollywood trainer has nothing to do with it. However, I seem to recall Ms. Kardashian being the embodiment of the west coast burger chain Carl's Jr. during the big game last year. It's ironic—Ms. Kardashian moving from a fast food endorsement to toning shoes actually makes perfect sense. If celebrity endorsements are all about creating positive and credible associations with the brand, wouldn't Shape Ups be better off with fitness junkie Jillian Michaels as the spokeswoman? Oh right, she was busy trying to sell us domain names from GoDaddy.com.

Call me skeptical, but advertisers don't just exaggerate on television. In boardrooms everywhere, marketers are repeatedly sold on the idea that a celebrity endorser is going to create positive associations to the brand. Yet, all the dizzying abstractions will do nothing for it.

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo Media's Beneath the Brand blog.

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