Study: Celebrity Ads Not So Effective. Perhaps even a Top 10 Celebrity can’t put lipstick on a pig.

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According to BrandWeek, a study from ad tracker Ace Metrix found that celebrities aren’t as influential in hawking products as many marketers think they are.  Ace Metrix “analyzed celebrity ads that broke in 2010, and found that in most cases, spots featuring celebs weren’t any more effective than regular ads in the same categories. And in many cases the celebrity ads “performed less effectively.”

I’m wondering if something like expensive “cold-fighter” Cold-fX (which is somewhat of a failure in the US compared to Canada) could be as much of a success in Canada even with its Top Tier Canadian celebrity endorsements if Health Canada was as stringent as the US’ Food and Drug Administration in regulating what the company could say about the dietary supplement. Canadian Winter Olympic silver medalist figure skater Joannie Rochette is one of these celebs appearing in Cold-fX advertisements, along with hockey commentator Don Cherry.  See a current Canadian ad on YouTube.

The product is apparently nothing more than American ginseng (which has not been proven to stop or prevent any cold virus, nor its symptoms, in extensive double-blind studies).  The University of Maryland Medical Center says “Ginseng is sometimes called an ‘adaptogen,’ an herb that helps the body deal with various kinds of stress, although there is no scientific evidence of adaptogens.” Although some studies suggest — but certainly do not prove — it can help improve the immunity system, so can an apple or inexpensive multivitamin once a day.  If a consumer believes the unproven advertising, ginseng can be obtained for much less without the Cold-fX label ($7 for 50 tablets on Amazon.com and I’ve seen it available for much cheaper in stores; Cold-fX retails for around $25-$30).  But, most Canadians opt for the celebrity-hyped, extensively marketed brand.  Sales would likely plummet if Canada required similar labelling as the US does: “This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”  In Canada, for some odd reason, Health Canada allows manufacturers to pretty much claim anything.  A consumer will see “clinically proven” on advertisements for a multitude of products and perhaps think that it is true, even when science was lacking in the “clinical” study.

So, I wonder if a celebrity endorsement would effectively counteract the government’s advice in this case, especially if the company could not depict germs/viruses in a sneeze being halted by the product (as is allowed in Canada but not in the US). This study suggests that such endorsements cannot overcome deficient product benefits.

Peter Daboll, CEO of Ace Metrix: “It is the advertising message that creates the connection with the viewer in areas such as relevance, information and attention, and this remains the most important driver of ad effectiveness.”  Ace found that fewer than 12 percent of the spots using celebrities achieved a 10 percent effectiveness “lift” versus regular ads.

A few years ago, the US cable television industry hired comedian Chris Elliot of Late Night with David Letterman as a spokesman, although much of America had no idea who he was.  You may remember him yelling at Dave as the “The Guy Under the Seats.”  The guy is just plain weird, and obviously detracted from the message.  I fear he was about the only “celebrity” the ad budget could afford, although he was decidedly 3rd tier.  The money could likely have been used much better.  Wasn’t Larry “Bud” Melman available??

Takeaway to consider:  If you do not have a top tier product with a top tier celebrity endorser, perhaps you need to put that celebrity paycheque into something more effective and measurable.

Jonathan Blaine

I've always called myself a "Marketing Guy." If I had a brand and logo, perhaps that would be my slogan. Measuring ROI is huge. Just because you're now using "new media" does not mean marketing fundamentals should be discarded. Customers' desires do not change. I'm a "right-brained creative analytical" guy (if you can fathom such a thing) who looks at a project several different ways. My first instinct is usually the correct one. I'm a "doer," and often a "diplomatic fixer;" someone who gets things done and still gets a thrill out of customers actually buying something because of something I mailed to them, or an ad I placed. Most of my success has come from strategy, writing, how ideas are presented to the potential customer and the actual thoughts that somehow originate within the ether between my ears. As a fan of DM guru Denny Hatch, I believe that the brand should never outweigh the message, and that art should never win over copy. The mix has to be “just right.” And continually tested. I have solid ryttan, err, written and verbal communication skills, and a reputation for consistently producing cost-effective quality work.

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