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Tech spokespeople: Choosing the human faces of device makers

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal | May 24, 2011
From Beyonce to Ashton Kutcher to the 'Verizon Guy,' millions of dollars ride on marketing campaigns of tech companies.

As for hard numbers, Nikon's market-share data suggests that in 2010 it rebounded from a dip between 2008 and 2009. Kutcher signed on in 2008, but it's important to note that a nationwide recession was happening at the time--so it's unclear as to whether Nikon's newfound success was due to Kutcher or changes in the economy.

Intel's recently announced collaboration with rapper, front man of The Black Eyed Peas, is another good example of a tech company's profiting from a believably tech-savvy front man, if you will. Actually, it was who approached Intel about representing the chip maker. The relationship aligns with Guha's philosophy: Johan Jervøe, Intel's vice president of sales and marketing, cites's "insatiable fascination with technology" and "his embracement of disruptive technologies in order to move things forward by leaps and bounds" as the reasons Intel decided to enter the relationship.

Star Power Doesn't Always Sell

Many tech companies employ celebrities as their spokespeople--aside from Kutcher for Nikon and for Intel, there's also Lady Gaga for Virgin Mobile, John Hodgman and Justin Long for Apple, Beyoncé for Vizio, Peyton Manning and Justin Timberlake for Sony, and many more. On the surface, a celebrity spokesperson seems like a surefire win for companies. After all, celebrities come with an enormous following of die-hard fans--devotees who are hanging on to the celebrity's every word, and who are doing their best to emulate the celebrity. Why wouldn't a company want to use such a captive audience to their advantage?

Well, celebrity endorsers are not all they're cracked up to be. Not only are celebrities fallible--recognizably so, since their lives are constantly scrutinized by the media--but celebrity-driven ads actually don't perform any better than noncelebrity ads do.

According to a 2010 study by Ace Metrix, a company that examines the effectiveness of advertisements, celebrity ads are no better--and in some cases are worse--than noncelebrity ads.

Ace Metrix tested 236 nationally televised ads across 16 industries and 110 brands. The company surveyed between 498 and 608 people per ad (chosen at random to ensure a nationally representative sample), and gave each ad an "Ace Score" based on "Persuasion" (desire, relevance, information, likeability, change, and attention) and "Watchability" (high-, medium-, and low-involvement TV viewing conditions).

The results: Celebrity ads failed to produce higher Ace Scores than noncelebrity ads did. In fact, after the analysts controlled for industry norms, celebrity ads rated nine points lower on average than noncelebrity ads did.

Although Ace Metrix did find some high-scoring celebrity ads, they appeared to be exceptions. For example, the most successful celebrity ads featured Oprah Winfrey, and were styled as public service announcements rather than product endorsements. Ace Metrix concludes that those ads' success cannot be attributed solely to Winfrey's celebrity status, and that the ads might have been successful (because of their messages) whether she had been in them or not.

According to survey respondents, the most common reasons for disliking celebrity ads were confusion about the product, perception of the ad as boring, and dislike of the celebrity. All of those issues are important for companies to take into account when they sign up celebrities to endorse their products.

The first two issues likely occur because the company gets lazy--it has already signed a celebrity endorser, and so it expects smooth sailing from there. The last issue, however, is out of a company's hands, and is one of the reasons that signing a celebrity spokesperson can be a huge liability.

Not surprisingly, Ace Metrix found that the celebrity with the most negative impact on ads was Tiger Woods--likely owing to his scandal last year. Such misbehavior by a spokesperson can spell disaster for an ad campaign, and that's probably why Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade, and Gillette all ditched Woods and attempted to distance themselves from him when the scandal broke.

Building a Noncelebrity Campaign

Plenty of tech companies prefer to avoid the liabilities of celebrity spokespeople, but still want a recognizable face that consumers can relate to. Enter the "T-Mobile Girl" and the "Verizon Guy."


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