Celebrity endorsers, including professional athletes, have been around for a long time. The theory is that these “celebthletes” break through media clutter, hold viewers’ attention and can provide very compelling testimonials for products that have contributed to their sporting prowess and success. Popular wisdom asserts that getting a celebrity endorsement is a tried-and‐true, simple-to‐implement way to maximize advertising effectiveness that yields stronger ties with viewers and, ultimately, greater sales. But the reality is quite different. 

In 2011 a US based company called AceMetrix, which specializes in digital television commercial analytics, did a study of more than 2,600 ads, comparing performance figures of celebrity endorsed ads versus non-celebrity ads. The study revealed that “celebrity ads do not perform any better than non-celebrity ads, and in some cases they perform much worse. Of the 263 celebrity ads tested (within the 2,600), only 31 did better than 10 percent above their respective industry average.”

So 90% of all the celebrity-endorsed ads that were tested by AceMetrix failed to achieve anything better than industry standard and some were as much as 40% below the norm. The biggest problem is that at the end of the day there is no accountability from the celebs and to a lesser degree from the ad agency. They tend to walk away, unscathed by their failures, safe in the knowledge that they have been paid and their part is done. 

When the Fiat Motor Company launched the Fiat 500 Gucci Edition in North America, Fiat teamed them up with Jennifer Lopez. J-Lo drove the car in Fiat’s commercials and it even appeared alongside the diva on stage when she sang live at the 2011 American Music Awards, for which she must surely get the “Product Placement Prostitute of the Year Award.” However this did nothing to help Fiat attain the sales they wanted, and their goal of selling 50,000 cars in a year was never reached (they sold just over 21,000). The only head that fell after this debacle was that of Laura Soave, Fiat’s head of the brand in North America.

Now if that example is a bit too far away from beautiful New Zealand for your liking, then perhaps consider these names: Richard Long and Kevin Milne.

Mr Long was a former One News presenter and he sold his voice to the trustworthy folk at Hanover Finance and we all know where that went. At least he lost a bit of money when the $50,000 he invested with those crooks disappeared.

Kevin Milne on the other hand is an ex-host of TV’s Fair Go and in 2010 was voted New Zealand’s Second-Most Trusted Person (a title which no doubt makes his blood boil). Mr Milne decided to assign his face to a carpet manufacturing company based in Hamilton, called Carpet Mill. He went to great lengths to assure viewers that him choosing to do the endorsement was the right thing to do. No one cares because the Youtube video where he pledges it’s the right thing to do has only been watched 700 times.

Judging by the amount of “celebthletes” featured on New Zealand TV screens lately the culture of attaching a brand to a famous face shows no signs of abating. Dan Carter impersonates a heat pump whilst Stephen Fleming tries to charm us into buying one, Richie McCaw sells shoddy looking houses, Sonny Bill wants us to believe that his super caffeinated energy drink is just what we need, and Colin Meads is telling us to buy a SsangYong and some herbal supplements from Silberhorn at the same time. Would I be too much of a sceptic to say these “celebthletes” are just doing it for the money and couldn’t give a rat’s ass about anything else? 

Have we not gotten past the point of falling for this junk? I was of the opinion that the world had changed and that the cult of celebrity was fading because the Internet and Social Networking was making all of us celebrities. 

Or maybe this just boils down to Rule # 1 – Don’t lie to the consumer. As David Ogilvy said “The consumer is not a moron.”