It used to be taboo for movie stars to do advertising for products in the United States. We never used to see our favorite movie star in commercials for Frosted Flakes. Catherine Zeta Jones recently broke this unspoken rule by appearing in a series of T-Mobile advertisements. While it is anyone prerogative on how they want to make money, I can understand why movie stars try to avoid getting involved in advertising for products or services. Charity advertising is one thing. Many movie stars do commercials and public service announcements for charities. However, hawking products for Madison Avenue might not be a good idea for movie stars. It can be difficult to play a serious cop role in your newest movie when you are known as the peanut butter guy from television. In short, movie stars and advertising just do not mix.
Occasionally, a celebrity’s success with selling products does depend on the product. George Foreman is now just as well known for his grills as he is as a boxer. I guess the question is did the grill make Foreman successful or did Foreman make the grill successful? George Foreman was a boxer professionally but he had done a series of advertising for muffler shops and other products prior to the grill. Perhaps George was so likable that the combination of a likable celebrity and a product everyone wants is like gold. This seems the most logical explanation for Foreman’s success. What about other celebrities?
Why does it work when it works?
Public Image is important in advertising. If public image was not important, then McDonalds would not have canceled their contract with Kobe Bryant after Kobe was indicted on rape charges. Although he was never convicted, he still lost all endorsement deals with McDonalds and other companies. So there is an important question: are we buying the product, or the celebrity? There is a simple answer. Regardless of the pitching by the celebrities, substandard products only survive for a short time.
Failed television shows are a good example of this theory. Jeff Foxworthy is one of the most successful stand-up comedians in history, and he is a well liked celebrity. However, his television sitcom The Jeff Foxworthy Show failed terribly. Foxworthy was not negatively affected by the failure of his sitcom because he went on to start the very successful variety show Blue Collar TV. But as you can see, advertising is a two way street. The celebrity needs to have some credibility in the eyes of the sponsor and the customers. Also, more importantly, product needs to be of high quality as well.
On of the better examples of celebrities in advertising used strictly to sway consumer choice is the war between the cola giants. Pepsi has a reputation of trying to target the younger demographics by featuring such celebrities as Michael Jackson and Madonna while Coca Cola has featured such celebrities as Michael Jordan and Elton John. Pepsi wanted their reputation as the coolest new thing while Coke went with the wholesome family approach. To this point, research has shown that Pepsi usually come up tops in the cola wars. However, as long as there are celebrities to hire there will always be celebrities in advertising.
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