Amazon’s Alexa, Bud Light, Hellman’s Mayonnaise, Frito-Lay, Sketchers, Tide, General Motors, Logitech, Square Space are among the many advertisers in Super Bowl LV. What do they have in common? They employed celebrities in their ads.
Who? Mathew McConaughey, Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Cedrick the Entertainer, John Travolta, Michael B. Jordan, Mike Myers, Serena Williams, Will Ferrell, Dolly Parton, Nick Jonas, Amy Schumer, Jason Alexander, Mindy Kaling, Tracy Morgan, Martha Stewart, Big Bird, and many, many others.
Why? I can surmise a few reasons for the widespread use of celebrities for their Super Bowl advertising. The first is to provide entertainment value in the single-most prestigious venue for “advertainment.” They forget that the purpose of advertising is to build the business. In other words, it is about generating sales and increasing market share.
Another reason for celebrities’ widespread use is to capture viewers’ attention and engage them in the message. Celebrities can help cut through the clutter of the more than 70 spots—50 commercials for products—appearing during the game.
The third reason is to connect with consumers who are fans of the celebrity appearing in the commercial. Stars have franchises, and the advertiser is hoping to capitalize on that franchise. Celebrities can provide a positive halo for the brand advertising, which helps, in turn, to win their fans to the brand.
So, there are some very good reasons for using celebrities. However, the story is not all positive. Brands live or die with celebrities.
While I was at Coca-Cola USA, we used celebrities very well to introduce diet Coke. We wanted to create a bandwagon effect by using upcoming stars to lead the wagon and get consumers to jump aboard. For example, we signed and used Whitney Houston just before her breakout, which continued into her stardom. We did that with many others.
We also used Bill Cosby to help counter the Pepsi Challenge. You could trust Bill, America’s most loveable and favorite Dad. At least we thought we could. Pepsi used Michael Jackson, incredible talent, and superstar extraordinaire. While both were effective in their day, they would bring shame to the brands they represent today. While it may be right for Hollywood that there’s no bad publicity, that is not the case for the corporate world and brands.
America’s rocker, Bruce Springsteen, appeared in an ad for Jeep, calling for unity in our country. While I don’t believe in brands advertising messaging anything other than selling, the message is beautiful. Bruce Springsteen is a master storyteller—despite not being from the “middle” of the country—and compellingly delivered the message. See the ad here: https://www.kctv5.com/bruce-springsteen-and-jeep-call-for-unity-in-super-bowl-ad/video_803d5e74-ef5b-5ee0-b64e-9f37dc38c3e0.html
However, when Jeep learned that Mr. Springsteen is being tried for DWI, they pulled the ad from YouTube. They canceled both the ad and Bruce Springsteen despite his not being convicted of anything yet. The advertiser is obviously concerned about their association with the rock legend and any inference that it might be OK to drink and drive under any circumstance. It’s about avoiding potentially harmful publicity for Jeep and negative consequences to their reputation and sales.
C’mon now, what is our perception of rock stars and Hollywood celebrities? Do we think they are 100% pure? Don’t we imagine that the vast majority have participated in debauchery—alcohol, drugs, and what not—even if they haven’t? That sums up what we advertisers face when we use celebrities. Our brand reputations and sales are at stake. We live or die by the celebrity.
There are other instances where celebrities created problems. Among the most memorable:
- Madonna for Pepsi following her album’s release Like a Prayer and consumer threats to boycott the brand.
- Kirstie Alley shilling for Jenny Craig, the weight loss company. Unfortunately, Ms. Alley’s weight ballooned during her capacity as the spokesperson.
- O.J. Simpson did very well for Hertz until he ran afoul by abusing his wife and trial for murdering her. Check out the infamous chase scene. Simpson is driving a Hertz.
This caution extends beyond celebrities but spokespeople from any walk of life. Perhaps, the most notorious is the story of the All-American mom appearing on the packaging of Ivory Snow, the Procter & Gamble detergent brand known for being 99 & 44/100% pure. However, her promoters heralded her as 99 & 44/100% impure for her roles in porno films. Her name, Marilyn Chambers. P&G removed her image, cuddling a baby, from their packaging.
Live or die with celebrities, or any spokesperson for that matter!
I recognize that celebrities can do wonders for a brand too. When it comes to successes, Michael Jordan immediately springs to mind for Gatorade and Nike. When it comes to sports, I want to be like Mike, so I was a brand loyal consumer of Gatorade and Nike for many years. Notably, his endorsements drove tremendous growth for both brands. Additionally, Michael Jordan impacted the valuation of the companies he endorsed. When his rumored return to basketball, following a hiatus to play baseball, hit the media, the stock prices for both Quaker (parent of Gatorade) and Nike shot up. WOW!
Mathew McConaughey was a terrific spokesperson for Lincoln Motors. He transformed the image of their cars from being stodgy to super cool. Like Michael Jordan’s impact on Gatorade and Nike sales, celebrity McConoughey boosted sales of Lincoln by more than 25%. He was a difference-maker!
Live or die with celebrities. What can we do to avoid dying and, instead, thriving with celebrities? Here are some thoughts:
- Remember, the objective is not to provide advertainment but to build your brand—sales and market share. Choose celebrities that will boost brand sales.
- Use celebrities that are relevant to the brand and its story. Think Michael Jordan and Gatorade. Think Air Jordans for Nike.
- Be aware of the celebrity’s Brand Character and its match with that of your brand, or what you want to establish for your brand: Mathew McConaughey and Lincoln.
- Do your homework and learn everything you can about your celebrity choice. Check out the rumors. Don’t ignore what everyone else seems to know. Don’t let Marilyn Chambers or Bruce Springsteen happen to your brand.
- Plan for success but prepare for failure. Have a backup plan that addresses “what if” and a contract that protects the brand and company.
One last word, consider creating and owning an animated character—Tony the Tiger for Frosted Flakes Cereal, Betty Buspar for Buspar Anti-Anxiety medication, the GEIKO Gecko, Mr. Clean for P&G’s Mr. Clean, the Michelin Man for Michelin, Big Bird for DoorDash. They’re not all fun and games. They help build brands. Importantly, they won’t expose themselves to children, create scandals, or turn against your brand.
Live or die with celebrities. They have their place. If you use celebrities, employ them wisely.
“NINETY-NINE PERCENT OF ADVERTISING DOESN’T SELL MUCH OF ANYTHING.” David Ogilvy
Is your advertising among the ninety-nine percent? Read Chapter 9, Brand Communications that Suck, in AVOIDING CRITICAL MARKETING ERRORS: How to Go from Dumb to Smart Marketing. It will identify those critical errors and, importantly, point the way to developing advertising in the Top 1%. Learn more here: http://bdn-intl.com/avoiding-critical-marketing-errors
Peace and best wishes,