Use Real People or Celebrities in Your Advertising Campaign?

Use Real People or Celebrities in Your Advertising Campaign?

In an era when reality television dominates the ratings and anyone can become a blog superstar, the line between celebrity and average Joe is nearly indistinguishable. That trend is carrying over into advertising, too. Campaigns, like the one for Dove beauty products that features everyday middle-aged women in the buff, are becoming as well-known as those with famous faces.

This landscape leaves advertisers to debate whether celebrities or real people have more success beefing up profit margins. Most say pinpointing how much revenue ads generate in general is difficult because strength of brand and marketplace influence success. Given that, quantifying which spokesperson is more effective is challenging at best.

So how do you determine whether a celebrity or real person is right for your latest ad campaign? Go ahead and weigh the pros and cons of each, say veterans. But the more important thing is to establish the right campaign for your client irrespective of the type of talent you choose.

The Celebrity: Pros and Cons

Celebrities, say veterans, tend to be more appealing in ads for products that benefit from being associated with role models or someone the consumer emulates. Veterans commonly point to cosmetics, clothing and automobiles as examples.

Celebrities also tend to be more effective in attracting the spotlight. “Celebrities can work well, because they grab people’s attention, particularly in a cluttered media environment,” says Brett Martin, professor of marketing at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom. And the public is not the only audience that notices when a celebrity signs a deal; the news media often also responds, which means additional free publicity for the star and the company.

The downside is celebrities come at a price. There’s the monetary cost -- in addition to the cost of hiring the celebrity, accompanying costs can include hair and make-up stylists, directors and other members of the celebrity’s entourage -- and also the risk of the “endorsement” not being credible. Celebrity overexposure and bad press both can undermine perceived authenticity of message.

Real People: Pros and Cons

Real people are most persuasive for products and services that require social approval, says Martin. Supporting this view is his study of close to 300 undergraduates released in 2007 and conducted with colleagues from the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. In it, he found that advertisements with real people were more effective due to greater concern with keeping up with neighbors than with the unattainable life of the rich and famous.

A Forrester Research survey released in 2006 and reported in Time lends some credence to his finding. In it, about 56 percent of respondents said friends or family influenced them when they were choosing which brands to purchase in a given category of products. The possible takeaway: The opinions and testimonials of real people matter.

Of course, one more clear pro to amateurs is also their con: The lower price tag. There’s a reason for it. Amateurs tend not to be as practiced at delivering a message or working on a set. Nor are they as glamorous or recognizable to the public.

Establish the Right Campaign

So what can you do to ensure that your campaign gets the biggest bang for its buck? Keep these pros and cons in mind, but even more importantly, focus on what works best for the product and its target audience.

  • Find the Perfect Pair: Whether you’re using celebrities or real people, you’ll have to play matchmaker. Choosing the right person to endorse the right product is like putting together a puzzle. If the two pieces don’t go well together, you’ll never offer a complete picture to your audience. Heidi Dangelmaier, founder of 3iying, a Manhattan-based firm that specializes in marketing and design for girls 15 to 22, says her audience can see right through certain ads. For example, she says that none of the girls with whom she speaks believes that Jennifer Love Hewitt is shopping in stores that sell Hanes even if she stars in the promotions.

  • Budget Wisely: You don’t have to break the bank. Real people are an affordable alternative to celebrities. If you do go for a famous person, be careful not to overpay, says Noreen Jenney, president of the Celebrity Endorsement Network in Calabasas, California. She adds that the price quote is always negotiable, and you should look for companies that will protect you from wily Hollywood agents. Remember that the advertisements are meant to improve sales and boost your intake, not put you in the red.

  • Know Your Demographic: Baby Boomers were on top of the minds of those who created the Dove ads. They intended to show off the older women’s bodies to help Boomers feel less invisible in the media and prouder of their maturity. Dangelmaier says Millennials are almost numb to media images and they’re over the celebrity endorsement, which means advertisers will need to get clever to make a campaign stick with this younger crowd. The lesson: Play to your audience.

  • Avoid Controversial Figures: Lindsay Lohan is probably not the best actress to pick for an ad at this moment. Jenney says to choose celebs who are not likely to get arrested or be embroiled in scandal. “Just because we read about them in Us magazine doesn’t mean that we’ll follow their use of a product,” adds Dangelmaier. Sometimes you’d rather see someone who hasn’t ever appeared in Us magazine.