The Value of Experience

Morgan Freeman

“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”—Mark Twain

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In a world defined by instant gratification, the conventional wisdom is that recency equals relevancy—that newer is better, and experience is secondary. This has become especially true with the explosion of social media, where saying it first often trumps getting it right.

So it is surprising that nonagenarian Betty White ranks highest in the most recent InterMedia DR Star Index®, especially since the Index surveys a proportional cross-section of U.S. adult consumers in which the population of the 18–34 demographic exceeds that of other, older age segments. White’s extreme popularity with young consumers of both genders, as well as with older groups, helps her attain a top ranking.

IME set out to determine whether White’s ranking and universal appeal is an anomaly based on singular circumstances, or part of a larger dynamic that could potentially be leveraged by companies seeking a nontraditional brand ambassador to represent their product or service. In other words, does a celebrity’s advanced age preclude him or her from effectively representing a brand targeted at consumers throughout the age spectrum, or can the perceived wisdom and perspective an individual achieves through experience trump the age gap?

In Grey We Trust

By almost any standard, the 92-year-old White is somewhat of an outlier; her enduring persona and 70-year track record of leading roles are exceptional for a public personality of any age.

However, in the most recent overall Star Index rankings, seven of the top 12 celebrities are 60 or older, as are nine of the top 20. Besides White (1), the group includes Morgan Freeman (3), Oprah Winfrey (8), Chuck Norris (9), Mark Harmon (10), Dennis Haysbert (11), Jackie Chan (12), Dick Van Dyke (16), and Alex Trebek (20).

Not surprisingly for long-tenured public personalities, this stature is due in part to high Recognition levels, as all land in the top 10 percent. Low Attractiveness rankings mitigate most scores; none except for Mark Harmon scores well in this category.

Morgan FreemanCrucially, the top senior celebrities excel in the two attribute categories considered essential for successful spokespeople—Trust and Influence. Each ranks in the top 10 percent for both attributes, but this isn’t the result of the older survey respondents stacking the deck; the strong rankings span all age groups, and some of the older celebs receive their highest marks from younger groups, not seniors.

This finding suggests a somewhat counterintuitive marketing implication: Advertisers targeting younger demographics should not assume that this group automatically considers peers as the strongest influencers. A recent Snickers commercial depicts this dynamic, as Betty White transforms into a young male football player. Snickers appeals to all ages, but primarily younger customers consume the candy bar.

IME uses the Star Index’s Fan View® feature to take a deeper dive into the numbers. This tool isolates the preferences and perceptions of a specific celebrity’s Core Fans (self-identified strongest supporters). We wanted to understand if particular products or services resonate with Core Fans, and whether these findings lead to actionable marketing implications.

Enduring Appeal

We chose a pair of celebrities with whom InterMedia has worked on spokesperson deals: Joan Lunden (A Place for Mom) and Larry King (BreathGemz); both rank in the overall top 20 percent in the Star Index. As with White, Freeman, and the other elders, Lunden exhibits exceptional strength in the Trust and Influence categories, and while King’s results aren’t as robust, he has solid rankings.

Both Lunden and King had decades-long, news-related television careers. Serving as voices of authority elevates public stature, and this standing has undoubtedly contributed to their success as effective spokespeople.

We conducted the latest survey prior to Lunden’s public battle with breast cancer, revealed by her recent shaved-head cover shot for People magazine. Based on prior Index results following similar situations, Lunden’s status should see an immediate, significant uptick.

Lunden and King demonstrate popularity among all age groups, but are surprisingly strong with Millennials (18–34), with their greatest strength in the 18–24 subgroup. Interestingly, their popularity dips somewhat among Generation X (35–44), but remains strong among all other age groups through age 75.

When analyzed through the prism of Fan View®, Lunden’s and King’s Core Fans display a surprisingly broad array of product preferences, a number of which could have actionable marketing implications.

Given their ages, King or Lunden would be a natural fit for many products in the health and medical categories, including senior-oriented vitamins (Centrum Silver, Centrum Health, Occuvite), gingko biloba, and erectile dysfunction remedies.

On the other end of the spectrum, Core Fans for both celebrities have a predilection for acne and ADHD medications, almost certainly a result of the stars’ popularity among 18- to 24-year-olds. In spite of this correlation, the most appropriate choice would be a spokesperson with whom young consumers can identify, not someone whose last pimple popped up before the turn of the century.

It’s for those products and services that fall between these extremes—ones commonly purchased by consumers of all ages—that hold unforeseen promise in spokesperson selection. For King and Lunden, these include financial and insurance products, cameras, and many products in the pet supply, automotive, and home furnishings categories.

These categories represent multibillion-dollar industries and account for hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising annually. Many of these companies look for a spokesperson who can help position their brands and drive sales, and for certain niche products, choosing a trendy, relevant celebrity may seem like the fastest route.

The DR Star Index suggests other­wise. Consumer purchase behavior is complex, and becomes more so as the cost of goods rises or the path to purchase gains steps. As consumers’ commitment intensifies, so does the importance of Trust and Influence in the decision-making process.

Selecting a spokesperson who exemplifies these attributes—and producing DR-oriented creative executions that accentuate these traits—is the most effective way for an advertiser to counter consumer concerns and objections. This strategy can provide a seamless transfer of equity from brand ambassador to marketer, and choosing a seasoned celebrity who has spent a lifetime building his or her equity can be one of the shrewdest moves an advertiser can make.