There was a time when the industry assumption was that signing on a celebrity was an automatic no-brainer for selling a product. Indeed, a September 2010 article by ‘Advertising Age’ states clearly that celebrity endorsements still push product. But a new study has compiled data refuting this notion. Turns out that tennis celebrities like Venus Williams may not be as effective at selling us products as advertisers are led to believe.
Early in 2010, Tide launched a partnership with Venus Williams to help sell its stain and odor-eliminating products, with the tag-line: “Style is an Option. Clean is Not”. Display ads appeared in several popular women’s health magazines. Playing on the whole notion of Venus as sports clothing designer, visitors to Tide.com/Venus were encouraged to design an outfit for Venus, or could look at videos of Venus talking fashion. Venus in turn was expected to use her Facebook and Twitter to sell Tide products. (And I for one am pleased that this whole business of tweeting for profit is finally getting some legal scrutiny).
So how effective do you think all of this was? Well, it turns out that Venus’ ads were among the one-fifth of celebrity ads that actually hurt advertising effectiveness. In a must-read document titled “Celebrity Advertisements: Exposing A Myth Of Advertising Effectiveness”, the company acemetrix.com analyzed 2,600 ads, and concluded that their compilation of data showed that “contrary to popular wisdom, celebrity ads do not perform any better than non-celebrity ads, and in some cases they perform much worse.”
For the average consumer, it seems to matter little whether a celebrity or an ordinary Jill or Joe is endorsing a product of interest. Indeed, very few celebrity ads managed to push a product above industry averages. Tide, with Venus’ help, was not one of those products. In fact, Venus’ input may have been costly to Tide.
The only reason I’m focusing on Venus is because hers was the only tennis name in the lengthy list of celebrities associated with product damage. But Venus was not by far the worst celebrity whose name negatively impacted product.
That dishonor was reserved for Tiger Woods followed very closely by Lance Armstrong. Surely the parade of whores during the implosion of Tiger’s personal life must have played a part in his disrepute. And with that Danish journalist making increasingly bold statements that Lance Armstrong cheated during his Tour De France rides, well maybe Armstrong’s days as a media darling are numbered as well.
But it turns out that even seemingly harmless folks like Drew Barrymore were also ineffective. (Really I could have told Cover Girl this. Who uses a twisted-face ordinary-looking woman to sell make-up when the cameras can’t even spend more than a second on a close-up of her bizarre face?) And Julia Roberts also sucked at selling Lancôme. (Of course she did, girlfriend is well past her shelf-life). Diddy did not manage to persuade anyone to switch to drinking Ciroc. (How could he when the ads seemed more like vanity pieces showing off his lavish lifestyle than any attempt to inform you of the product?)
So Venus really should not feel badly for not helping to push Tide. Turns out Snookie also sucked at selling pistachios despite also being plump, round, and dressed in green.
There were three reasons suggested as to why so many celebrities were ineffective at selling products. First, it wasn’t always clear what product the celebrity was endorsing. (Um, Venus was clearly selling Tide. And perhaps also her fashion line). Second, the ad itself was perceived as boring. (Yes, they were). Finally, the celebrity was just disliked. (Hard to call – Venus has both fans and haters).
I’d like to propose a fourth reason. In an era when the label ‘celebrity’ can be equally applied to Drew Barrymore, Venus Williams, and Snookie, I think that this word has become meaningless. No wonder its impact appears to be equally so. The good news is that companies can stop shelling out large sums to celebrities, so that the price of many products will become more affordable to the average person.