Does Celebrity Advertising Really Work?

A few weeks ago a friend, Paul Hebert, tweeted me to get my opinion on what Robert Cialdini might say about an article from The Consumerist titled “Study: Putting Celebrities in TV Ads only Makes them Worse.” Some of the ads featuring celebrities that scored worst included:

  • Tiger Woods “Did You Learn Anything” (Nike)
  • Lance Armstrong’s “No Emoticons” (Radio Shack)
  • Kenny Mayne’s “Good Segment” (Gillette)
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s “Coverage at the Right Price” (Nationwide)
  • Donald Trump’s “Making Timmy a Mogul” (Macy’s)

The end of the article stated, “The bottom line is that good ads stand on their own, and this study empirically shows that a celebrity has little to no impact on an ad’s effectiveness. In fact, regardless of gender or age, ads without celebrities out-performed ads with them.” Why does Madison Avenue typically use famous people when advertising? Generally because it works. And let’s not forget that ads are ultimately rated on one thing – sales. Now that’s not to say that some ads don’t fail because there are always winners and losers but I think it would be a mistake to conclude from the report, at least based on these ads, that celebrity endorsements don’t impact our buying decisions.As I looked at the list a few thoughts hit me. First, Tiger Woods has virtually no appeal at the present time so I discount that ad entirely. Prior to his fall from grace I’m sure many of the ads featuring Tiger were very successful because people either wanted to be like Tiger or at least play golf like Tiger.What stood out about the other ads was what I’ll call a lack of connection. What I mean is, I’m not going to see myself as Dale Earnhardt Jr. because I buy Nationwide’s auto insurance. Nor am I going to feel like Lance Armstrong if I shop at Radio Shack. I think the appeal of celebrity advertising comes primarily in a couple of ways:

  1. Association through the liking principle. Again, I won’t feel like Dale Earnhardt Jr. because I buy the same auto insurance he does but I might feel a connection with him if I wear the same ball cap, use the auto parts he does, or put on the Wrangler jeans he wears. If I see him as cool then I might just feel a little cooler myself wearing what he wears or using some of the products he uses. The same can be said of Lance Armstrong. I’m not going to feel like Lance because I got my batteries or iPod from Radio Shack but I might associate with him if I drink the same energy drink during a hard workout or follow his training routine and diet (at least a little).
  2. Authority comes into play big time when persuading. Going back to Lance, he’s an expert when it comes to fitness, endurance and more specifically biking. If he endorses products in those areas then I assume he uses them and because of that I assume they’re probably really good. After all, he’s the greatest biker of all time so there’s very few others whose word carries as much weight as his. End result, I buy what he uses and recommends. But again, I don’t see him as having expertise in electronics. And the same goes for Kenny Maynes; I don’t view him as an authority when it comes to razors.

So my point is this; I believe celebrity advertising can be extremely effective if it’s done right. Throwing famous people in ads for no reason other that their celebrity is a recipe for failure. However, choose a celebrity for a product where people want to feel like the celebrity in some way and you might have a winner on your hands. By the same token, if the celebrity has credibility with certain products then I think you’re on your way to a winning campaign going that route too. Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

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