Star power still sells -- if choice is smart
Around-the-clock Internet exposure complicates the 'who's hot' factor
With the battle for market share growing tighter, automakers continue the time-tested tradition of recruiting titans of sports and Hollywood for their ad campaigns.
The trick is picking the right celeb -- one whose image won't backfire, and whose persona meshes with the marketing theme.
Chrysler is the current viral star, with Dodge Durango spots featuring Will Ferrell as movie anchorman Ron Burgundy, timed with the upcoming Anchorman 2. The spots have drawn millions of views on YouTube.
Because celebrities are seen constantly on social media, marketers need an "intense focus" to make the right picks, says Henry Schafer, executive vice president of Q Scores, a company that researches and measures the consumer appeal of more than 20,000 celebrities.
"It's pretty easy to follow the ups and downs of celebrities these days. The advertiser needs to particularly be more in tune with the social and professional trends in the celebrity's life," he says.
Olivier Francois of Chrysler says it's vital to match the message with the right star.
Embodying a spirit
At Chrysler, which has gotten headlines with Super Bowl commercials featuring Clint Eastwood and rapper Eminem, ideas for commercials are molded around the celebrity.
Chrysler Chief Marketing Officer Olivier Francois wrote in an e-mail to Automotive News that the "Halftime in America" Super Bowl spot was perfect for Eastwood's gritty delivery. And Eminem, a native of the Detroit area, was a good match for the "Born of Fire" Chrysler 200 commercial during the 2012 Super Bowl.
"Born of Fire" was written around Eminem's song "Lose Yourself," a tale of determination and perseverance that matched the spot's comeback theme.
Sometimes only one person is right to tell a particular story, Francois wrote. If Eastwood and Eminem weren't available, other stars wouldn't have been plugged into the same concepts.
"If the celebrity, or song, whatever our cultural touchstone is for the ad, is not available, it's not replacing that celebrity with another celebrity. We will develop a campaign using a different creative idea," Francois wrote.
Bob Zeinstra, Toyota's national advertising and strategic planning manager, says the company sometimes will have several potential fits it wants to use for a spot and work its way down the list until a deal can get done.
Toyota has enlisted singer Kelly Clarkson, ESPN host Chris Berman, actress Kaley Cuoco and "Inside the Actors Studio" host James Lipton in recent years.
Sometimes a celebrity presence isn't the right move.
"There comes a point in time where you have to look at it and say the money that we're paying to have a celebrity participate in this, could we better spend that someplace else?" says Nick Richards, a Buick spokesman. "That's why, when we look at how we communicate and develop our campaigns and our messages, it's not a simple process of saying we're going to use a celebrity. We start off with what's our goal, and how do we achieve that goal."
Tiger Woods: After Buick ads, big problems
A celebrity's image can stay with a brand after he or she is long gone.
When former Buick endorser Tiger Woods' pristine public image took a hit in November 2009 because of his marital problems, Richards said Buick was often asked how it felt about the situation.
Buick had cut endorsement ties with Woods nearly a year before, but many people still associated him with the brand.
"That's partially a reason for not aligning solely with one person or having one person as your spokesperson," Richards says. "There comes a point in time where the only thing people remember or recognize about your commercials is that person."
Toyota, traditionally a believer in family-focused branding, has taken risks on celebrities it wouldn't have considered 15 years ago as it tries to increase the glamour of the brand, Zeinstra says.
Zeinstra said an expansive search is done on their social media presence and stories about them, using aids such as the Q Score.
Q Scores has built up a database of more than 20,000 celebrities over the last five decades, releasing updates every six months, says Schafer. Historically, movie stars have scored best because of their wide appeal -- although some athletes such as Michael Jordan transcended the sports world and scored just as well.
Schafer says NFL star Peyton Manning, who hawks the Buick Verano, is the most appealing athlete right now.
While national recognition is important, marketing units must also consider how well the public will respond to a particular celebrity in certain regions.
Toyota struck the tone it was looking for with its Eli Manning campaign that was broadcast during "Sunday Night Football" on NBC.
The theme playfully made fun of Manning -- who could be seen as a villain in places such as the New England area for winning two Super Bowls over the local Patriots -- for not being able to catch a set of keys.
"The creative works in New England because they like seeing us make fun of Eli and the folks in New York don't mind because he's a good sport about it," Zeinstra said. "It's a careful balance."
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