David Beckham in his pants

Ok, the headline was just to grab your attention… but it worked ! (… and there is a link later, trust me!)

I had a bit of a pop at celebrity led advertising in my last post, enjoyable for me, but not especially illuminating for you all.

So I thought I would share a few views on how I think the use of a celebrity can enhance a brand or its advertising (or not). As always – let me know what you think if you get a spare moment by commenting on this post.


This really is a 50:50 call. Great voices do not necessarily make great voiceovers.

On the positive side, take David Thewlis and the NFU Mutual voiceovers. Delicious, a lovely rich timbre to his voice and his meter is perfect. No doubt expensive, he is after all a Hollywood star. The ad works better because he has a great voice, and in part because you recognise it.

Then take the Co-operative, Katherine Kelly voices their TV ads, she has a great voice, warm and engaging, but do you really know who she is? I would hesitate a guess that even if you do know who she is you may not recognise her voice. Her Barnsley accent is soft and engaging, a far cry from the character she played in Coronation Street or Mr Selfridge. So I would question the choice, even though a great voice is a the key thing in a voiceover, famous or not.

Do you need to use top end stars, unless they add that extra something?

Think also that Co-op used John Hannah extensively – a great and really distinctive voice, one much more recognisable and associated with the brand.

The fact that he now applies his talent to the Direct Line ads shows a distinctive voice is always going to be in demand, and the risk of too closely aligning your brand to a celebrity (voice or image).

The Apple Ad I showcased in my last post, the Crazy one’s used Richard Dreyfus to voice over. Lovely, but the Steve Jobs version on You Tube is arguably just as good and would a voiceover specialist be even better. A mimic or impersonator, if good, may run a brand risk of being ‘not authentic’ but could you really tell on your TV?

So where do I stand. Go to an extreme, who has a very distinctive voice?  Sean Connery, so what if you used him to voiceover your ad?  He does it well, but rarely, see below.

Will the listener or viewer really remember the content of the ad or the message? or, more likely will they remember Sean Connery. Having paid a reasonable fee, you need to get an effective ad, but how authentic is Sean Connery in this context? We know he is an actor with no connection with this firm.

They are using a great voice to get cut-through and that is all. Maybe it’s been a success, but I wouldn’t like to be writing the business case.

For a low-interest category though, it’s certainly a break-out tactic.

The Perfect marriage of visual to product to celebrity

This is a small tight category, I would contend, and is arguably the most obvious and successful place to be connecting product to celebrity. It includes perfumes, make-up, lingerie, hair products and the roll call is stunning… Supermodels, beautiful actresses… think Natalie Portman, Keira Knightly, Claudia Schiffer, Kate Moss and then add David Beckham, Beyoncé. (This is the pants bit everyone).

The aspiration to look and smell like our hero’s is a compelling reason to ‘marry’ a celeb to your product. It’s tried and tested and motivates through simple, direct, brand association.

Two gratuitous adverts for you to enjoy … David in his pants.

And the lovely Ms knightly in the 3.20s film used in cinema to promote Coco Mademoiselle by Chanel. The soundtrack helps immensely in this ad, but it is a nice piece of aspirational story telling and visualises the empowerment of women.

The icon approach

I could just have easily used Samuel L Jackson in the example on voiceovers instead of Sean Connery. The Barclay’s ad below is quite stunning, great art direction and filming. A great script too….but did it really help convey the message? I think not, I blame the random Unicorn personally, and the cost must have been huge, Samuel L Jackson is an A-lister after all.

Samuel has however completed an ad for Virgin Media that works much better, the same voice qualities and a quirky filmic approach work much more strongly, he is relevant to this category and this subject… much better value I would contend. A lingering doubt remains that he does advertise quite a few diverse things… a bit like a Hollywood Mylene Klass so will that confuse your target audience?

The same rationale works with this Bruce Willis ad for Sky … it’s relevant, and funny, pokes gentle fun at his celebrity and is helped by a great supporting cast, the young lady is perfectly cast, and what a great slo-mo ending, love it !

The funny stuff

A hard one to pull off. Churchill have a track record that works with Dawn French. She plays the funny lady to the straight man Churchill. A nice combination. It warms the brand, you feel safe and comfortable in their company, the pace and Britishness of the humor and the situations work to support this. Dawn French would surely never rip you off, I mean, she is a Vicar isn’t she?

Peter Kay grew his own fame and that of John Smiths with a series of great ads. a wonderful combination.. I like the ‘Wardrobe Monsters’ one best. These aired around 8 years ago now, so the quality on this compilation is not great, but it makes you feel really warm to the brand. It’s hard to find more examples that really work.. John Thompson has become something of a go to man for wry gentle humor, but the bigger comics are either not in demand or chose not to play.

A hard category in casting terms I would imagine and there is often a risk with Comedians!

The spokesperson

Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods for Nike are great examples where the association works really well. The credibility of the product is enhanced by the credibility of the spokesperson, however cheesy the ads may be.

It adds value to the consumer by association. The same as for beauty products, sports endorsement just works. The risk here is poor performance, if the star performs badly will that adversely affect brand perception?

Pepsi have tried consistently to add value with arguably equally strong brands… brand Michael Jackson and brand Britney Spears. Not so successful because the item has less connection with the celebrity .. sports goods = sports stars, and beauty = beautiful people, so naturally …  cola = singers?


Reflected glory

This is a variation of distinctiveness I referenced above in voiceovers. Santander are the best current example I can think of. Yes, I know that Jess Ennis-Hill and Rory McIlroy and Jenson Button will have current accounts, but that is not the point, it’s a reflected glow from World Champions that Santander are after. That is sort of ok, it’s a bit obvious, but I would imagine it works if the stars are as likable as Jess, Jenson and Rory.

So there you have it .. a few views, to summarise:

  1. Voice distinctiveness will get you cut-through but may be an expensive high risk strategy if you are relying on recognition. A great voice at the right price should be your priority.
  2. Logical association will help make the celebrity endorsement or appearance as it does in beauty and sports goods and success breeds success – see Nike
  3. Humour is a difficult one to pick off unless you cast someone everyone loves, like Peter Kay and Dawn French, and then use them to warm your brand and be authentic.
  4. Don’t try to use the celebrity as shorthand for the brand essence, that won’t work, you will confuse the consumer I would contend.
  5. If you are using an “icon”, make sure the use is true to who they are (or who they are famous for being), and sit back and bask in association – a good ploy is to use them in the way Sky use Bruce Willis rather than having them speak directly to consumers. If they are actors, your consumers may think they are acting… or that they are doing it for the money, either way it damages credibility
  6. If you just want cut-through, then that’s ok, but don’t try and manufacture linkages where none exist

I tried to think of a category to cover the More than Freeman ads… they are just so (good and) unusual that they are best just thought of as unique.. enjoy… (oh and the clever bit .. it is the voice of Josh Robert Thompson an impressionist from the North East … who needs Celebrities)?

See you next Time

23 May 2014

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