Identifying a Celebrity Truth Ambassador

Walter Cronkite
“And that’s the way it is, on this date…”– Walter Cronkite’s trademark ending to his CBS Evening News broadcasts.

Most Americans believed him. For most of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, public polls consistently named CBS anchor Walter Cronkite as the “the most trusted man in America.” His image of delivering the news with pure impartiality transcended age, gender, race and political affiliation. Throughout the country, his words were taken as the truth.

Cronkite never took a job as an advertising spokesperson after he retired, but if he had, indications are that he would have been extremely effective in that role. The notion that newscasters, and by extension, TV personalities with long-standing roles of authority and celebrities who’ve been closely associated with fact-based programming can make excellent spokespeople goes beyond common wisdom.

“Truth Ambassadors” are a natural fit as brand spokespeople because they are inherently perceived by the public as trustworthy. The rankings in the InterMedia Entertainment DR STAR INDEX® confirm this dynamic; those celebrities who fall in the “Truth Ambassador” category consistently perform strongly in the Trust category. The results also show that a powerful correlation between high Trust scores and strong showings in two other critical spokesperson attributes: Influence and Likeability.

Newscasters are easy to categorize this way, but who else constitutes a “Truth Ambassador?” It appears that this group includes TV personalities associated with fact-based programs, or those in starring roles playing characters of high authority. For the first category, this includes fact-based game show hosts (Jeopardy, The Price Is Right) and TV personalities associated with fact-based programs; like Bob Vila, who hosted This Old House or Jack Hanna, the host of numerous nature programs through the years.

This category can also be expanded to actors associated with character roles that were highly authoritative or trustworthy in nature, such as starship captains (William Shatner & Patrick Stewart) and their first officers (Leonard Nimoy). However, Shatner’s trustworthiness ranking has suffered somewhat (though still in the top 15%) relative to the other Truth Ambassadors, probably as a result of heavy ongoing exposure role from his role as Priceline’s kitschy pitchman.

It is important to note, however that, in general, stars of Reality television shows are not perceived in this light. For example, Kim Kardashian scored next-to-last in Trust among her peer group, women 25-54, despite ranking near the top in the Relevance category.

Additionally, a lack of recent visibility among consumers can offset Truth Ambassador status. Hugh Downs has a strong Truth Ambassador resume (longtime roles as anchor on 20/20, co-host for Today Show & host for Concentration), but has basically been out of the public eye since the 1990s, and his resulting low Relevance standing probably depressed his scores in the other attribute categories.

The following chart highlights key Index results that illustrate this phenomenon:

Celebrity Overall Rank Trust Rank Influence Rank Likeability Rank Best Known Role
Patrick Stewart 4 3 2 4 Captain Picard on Star Trek: Next Generation
Alex Trebek 6 2 5 9 Host of Jeopardy
William Shatner 27 73 24 24 Captain Kirk on original Star Trek
Bob Vila 40 13 4 78 Host of This Old House
Leonard Nimoy 84 20 10 32 Mr. Spock on original Star Trek
Jack Hanna 98 5 16 20 Host/Guest on Nature Topics
Joan Lunden 115 18 36 36 Host on Good Morning America
Hugh Downs 176 27 59 104 Anchor on 20/20; Host of Concentration
We have found that the combination of high Trust, Influence and Likeability scores is a critical measure in determining potentially-effective spokespeople within certain verticals, especially in the financial services and senior care categories, and for considered purchases in general.

So, when considering a list of talent for a product endorsement, be sure to consider those who index highly for these attributes. A good starting point is identifying the “Truth Ambassadors,” who are inherently better-suited to effectively deliver your brand message and promise to the consumer.

By Robert Yallen and Rob Levy

Notice: The results described in this article are for general informational purposes, and may not be relied upon in making an evaluation of a celebrity’s actual credibility, relevance, or effectiveness as a spokesperson for your business or product, as the survey does not take into account factors which may be relevant to your particular product and market. This is a consumer opinion survey based upon a limited set of responses and subjective criteria established by the author, and do not necessarily reflect the actual credibility, relevance, or value of any particular celebrity, or their value as a representative for a particular product.