Watching celebrity trends in advertising over the past twenty years, I have seen original ideas, copycats, fads, good campaigns, bad campaigns, celebrity use for the sake of celebrity use, and good, solid creative benefiting from the inclusion of the RIGHT celebrity to promote an idea or concept.
Marketers have been using celebrities in commercials, print campaigns and promotions for years, because done properly, it works. Celebrities get the viewer's attention; but whether they work to sell the product depends on proper celebrity casting. Selecting the right star to "pitch" your product means finding the person to whom your buyers can relate the person your buyer wants to believe. This doesn't sound too difficult, until you factor in that in many cases the right celebrity is not always a celebrity you can afford. On the flip side, the right celebrity is not always the most expensive one. It is important, above all else, to consider whether the celebrity you select is right for your campaign and take the process from there.
It's important to know what you want from a celebrity before you begin negotiations. That is why, when we work on behalf of an advertiser, even though it's not always easy for the advertiser to understand, we are insistent on identifying all of their needs prior to contacting the talent. On a recent commercial we cast for an insurance company, our client thought they were certain of the markets in which they wanted to air the spots, making it a regional campaign excluding major markets. The talent we secured was an astronaut, who we were able to get for a very reasonable amount of money because of the limited area of use. After the deal was negotiated, our client realized they needed to expand into additional regions, including major markets previously omitted. Fortunately, because of our strong relationship with the talent's agent, we were able to go back and renegotiate without a large financial "penalty" to the advertiser. But this is not always the case. The campaign was very successful, however, and they now have exercised an option, which we had pre-negotiated, to continue use of this celebrity into additional markets for an additional term.
Celebrity use often runs in clusters. You'll see a spurt of commercials utilizing sports personalities, then supermodels, then sitcom stars, etc. One advertiser's good idea creates a frenzy of interest in that type of celebrity for others to follow and so it goes, until the next creative idea emerges. Try not to get caught up in this "trend-setting" circus again, think about your product and its buyer in selecting your celebrity spokesperson.
With the proliferation of the Internet, a whole new arena has opened up for celebrity exposure. Many advertisers want to have the opportunity to include a star's image on their corporate websites, as well as sites designed to specifically promote a particular product. I would estimate that 50% of our recent negotiations included securing the rights for our clients to utilize celebrities on the Internet, even if the use was unspecified. I anticipate this will not continue to be easy to get, as the Internet has become a viable advertising medium in its own right.
There are unique challenges in utilizing a celebrity in advertising, and although most of the time there are only a few bumps on the way to the "deal," there are sometimes larger mountains to climb. We recently worked on behalf of a major auto manufacturer (General Motors) who was introducing a new model car, a sportier version of their brand, which previously appealed to an older buyer. The marketing firm planned a direct mail campaign, a sweepstakes of sorts, supported by mailers going into the home. We selected and secured a diverse group of talent four different celebrities to appeal to the auto manufacturer's different market segments and the photo session to create the direct mail piece was scheduled. One of the personalities, a basketball coach whose team was in the finals and who shall remain nameless, wreaked havoc on the best-laid plans. Less than a week before the photo session, his team won the championship and he decided, despite contracts already entered into, that his worth had now skyrocketed, and there was no way for our client to afford him. He was now sitting back and reviewing a multitude of better offers that appeared on his desk upon winning the coveted trophy. Fortunately, with the cooperation of the other talent, and a very understanding client, this piece of the puzzle was replaced and the campaign went on to be a successful effort. The moral of the story? Celebrities, like some other members of society, do not always have the integrity we'd hope. Flexibility, along with the ability to move quickly in a pinch, is often necessary when swimming in the shark-infested waters of celebrity advertising.
Celebrities in advertising is a marketing vehicle that will likely continue well into this new millenium, and as long as there continue to be new stars introduced into our entertainment arenas with last season's stars being ushered out gracefully there will be no shortage of talent to fill the need. Doing it right is the biggest challenge, a challenge that is answered in better response and higher sales volume.