“If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking.”-General George S. Patton
By Hunington Sachs and Robert Yallen
Today’s Top DR Brand Ambassadors
The InterMedia Entertainment (IME) Star Index® currently tracks nearly 1,000 celebrities who are either currently employed, or have the potential to act, as direct response advertising spokespeople. This issue, we concentrate on 25 celebrities who are working in DRTV today—people who represent a national brand and have appeared in television commercials in 2015.
The leading direct response advertising category for celebrity spokespeople is Financial Services, with six current advertisers. The associated products and services cover a broad spectrum of companies, ranging from reverse mortgages to payday loans. Other major categories employing brand ambassadors include Health and Beauty, Charity, Diet Products, Pain Relief, Nutraceutical Supplements, Insurance, and Senior Care.
The top brand ambassador in the IME Star Index already working in the DR space—albeit for a charity—is Jennifer Lopez. Representing Children’s Miracle Hospital, Lopez came in No. 7 in the Index overall, and also does non-DR commercials for various beauty and clothing products. The highest-rated Hispanic celebrity throughout the life of the Index, Lopez ranks No. 1 among all celebrities in the key spokesperson attributes of Recognition and Attractiveness; she doesn’t fare as well in other vital IME Star Index attributes such as Trust and Influence, but her scores are still in the top 10 percent.
One celebrity spokesperson who sparkles with consumers in the Trust category is Alex Trebek, who does DR spots for Colonial Penn. Trebek ranks in the top 3 percent of all celebrities (No. 19) overall, largely thanks to his No. 1 ranking for Trust. Trebek is perceived positively for all attributes, and also generated exceptional scores in Likeability and Recognition as a function of his long-standing job as the host of Jeopardy!, a top-rated television game show since 1984.
Lopez and Trebek are excellent choices for their long-running spokesperson roles. A more questionable choice is actor and former Senator Fred Thompson, who ranks near the bottom of the top 25 actors currently working in DR. Thompson, who is the frontman for AAG, the leading lender in the reverse-mortgage category, had an overall Index score of just 98.72—1.28 points below the mean for all celebrities tracked.
Thompson is an especially dubious choice as a brand ambassador, since he doesn’t display strength in any key spokesperson attribute; worse, his biggest weaknesses are in the most important traits. Among the top 25 current celebrities, he ranks 22nd in Recognition, 25th in Influence, 25th in Trust, 24th in Attractiveness (only edging out Larry King), and 24th in Likeability. With the country’s current record-low perception of elected officials, perhaps it’s not surprising that a political figure would fare poorly in Trust and Influence.
What is surprising is that the IME Star Index 25’s leading celebrity for Influence—one of the most important Index attributes—is Adam Levine. As the lead vocalist of Maroon 5 and a regular judge and coach on The Voice, Levine’s position has been propelled upward by appearing in almost 200 episodes of the primetime show, and enhanced by the fact that his team members have consistently won or placed highly in its talent contests.
This dynamic illustrates the power of regular appearances in front of the American public: One market research poll says that Levine’s Awareness level has tripled since joining the show in 2011. But Levine’s strength with consumers goes beyond Recognition; over the life of the Index, his scores for other key attributes—most significantly, Trust, Influence, and Likeability—have shown steady improvement as well.
Fit for a Brand
The Index’s top 25 illustrate that there is no blueprint for predicting the potential success of a celebrity spokesperson. An advertiser sometimes needs to think outside the box when considering spokesperson options. But when selecting a celebrity to represent its brand, certain dynamics should never be ignored. To construct the best-possible match between a celebrity and a product or service, advertisers need to consider:
The connection of the celebrity to the brand and the story that can be woven. Within the Index Top 25, an excellent example of this connection is William Devane, spokesperson for Rosland Capital. Rosland specializes in the sale of gold and silver, and Devane is a known conservative, Rosland’s primary target group. Devane uses the company to buy gold and silver himself, and has a strong track record of portraying figures of authority, holding the unofficial record for playing U.S. Presidents and/or their top cabinet members.
The ability of a celebrity to influence trial among the target group. Joey Fatone is a good fit for Bosley, because—as his own before-and-after photos clearly illustrate—he has received a successful hair transplant.
How the celebrity fits with the key demographic and/or psychographic traits of the product’s top prospects. George Foreman has been successful as pitchman for InventHelp, a service that guides aspiring inventors toward getting their new product to market, and whose core target is men 35 and over. While Foreman ranks in the top 10 percent among men 18 and up, his scores really shine with the older segment of the male demographic, giving him a top-5 percentile, No. 31 standing.
The Risk of Too Much Exposure
A spokesperson’s effectiveness can diminish if consumers perceive that a celebrity is in it solely for the money, or that he or she will pitch anything if the price is right. One top spokesperson at risk of overexposure is Chuck Woolery, who currently does DRTV spots for three brands: Tricalm, Australian Dream Cream, and Willow Curve. Woolery appears to have sidestepped potential overload, however, since all three products are targeted to seniors and deal with various forms of physical discomfort.
Because there is a clear, common thread among the products and Woolery is now a member of the target demographic, he has greater probability of being a successful spokesperson for them without inspiring negative perceptions among consumers. Instead, there is a strong probability that the public (or seniors, at least) will consider him more of a “Truth Ambassador” who understands their needs, and an honest broker of the products he endorses.
One of the most significant advantages that the IME Star Index can deliver is the ability to identify “undervalued” celebrity options. Celebrities that fall into this desirable Moneyball-style category are usually public figures who (for whatever reason, usually a career lull) generate high scores in Trust and Influence (which are not easy to build), but lower rankings in Recognition and Relevance (which are relatively easy to increase).
As a result, these celebrities have significant potential to be exceptional spokespeople for the right product or service, and marketers can often negotiate favorable deals with them. Examples include Geena Davis (ranked No. 73 on the Index with a score of 118; 100 is average); Molly Ringwald (No. 100, also scoring 118); Bob Vila (No. 92, scoring 118); and James Caan (No. 105, scoring 117).
There is no approach that guarantees optimal spokesperson selection for all advertisers. While they need to resonate with the target audience, how spokespersons achieve this can be a function of a number of different dynamics and situations.
So, to paraphrase Old Blood and Guts, there is a danger to simply following in the footsteps—and mindsets—of those who have gone before. This is especially true in spokesperson selection: Statistical analyses like the IME Star Index can provide advertisers with innovative, cost-effective methods of evaluating potential brand ambassadors.