I’m a Celebrity Get Me in Your Ad

November 24, 2009


Celebrities in ads. David Ogilvy (and generally speaking, I’m loathe to disagree with him) disagreed with their use, believing that people get distracted, and pay more attention to the celebrity than to the brand they’re hawking. He writes that  “These (ads) are below average in their ability to change brand preference. Viewers guess the celebrity has been bought, and they are right. … Viewers have a way of remembering the celebrity while forgetting the product.”

Paul Dervan notes a recent star- studded ad for ‘Save the Rainforest’, and seems positive about its influence. I’d be wary of making hard and fast rules on this one. It’s not really clear cut; there are lots of variables to consider. It matters both what sort of celebrity are we talking about and how deeply they are associated with the brand. In Ogilvy’s day, an association with a celebrity meant a straightforward message of endorsement. Now it can mean anything from wearing a dress to the Oscars to a mention on Twitter.

‘Celebrity’ is no longer a straightforward concept. They are the famous, the infamous, the people who are celebrities for their skill, their achievements, their associations, their relationships, their parentage or simply for being famous. Levels of celebrity are many; there is a whole alphabet of lists to be on.

And so, using them is much more complicated than it once was. For example, many footballer stars associate themselves with Adidas. Many other footballer stars associate themselves with Nike. I find it difficult to remember which is which, and in general, I just hear ‘famous footballers like both Nike and Adidas’, which is fine for widening the gulf between these behemoths and smaller brands, but it doesn’t help either one differentiate themselves from the other, their main competitor. Other footballers still, associate themselves with Gillette and then find themselves embroiled in an international furore over a handball incident, and incur the wrath of a nation of Gillette consumers.

I think celebrity itself has grown far beyond what it meant in Ogilvy’s day, its bigger, louder and has many more permutations and combinations than he could have imagined. This makes things difficult to predict, and it spells danger. Such ads are probably better than not making ads at all, but I can’t help but think that they may not be as good as a piece of communication based on real insight, that doesn’t use a celebrity.




2 Responses to “I’m a Celebrity Get Me in Your Ad”

  1. theinfluentials said

    Good point on the competitive set – if everyone follows into the same associations whether it’s footballers or music or film, doesn’t that just even the playing field again and negate all the associations?

    I can’t help remembering a similar point about women and high heels. If one woman wears them, she has an advantage and looks taller and slimmer than the rest. If we all wear them, the advantage is gone and we’re all still stuck in uncomfortable stilletos!

  2. paul said

    hi Claire, good article. I’m not one to argue with mr Ogilvy either. Dave Trott recently talked about celebs in football ads, saying something similar – http://community.brandrepublic.com/blogs/dtb/archive/2009/11/22/whatever-you-do-don-t-mention-the-name.aspx

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