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When Is An Ad Featuring A Celebrity Expensive Product Placement?

I have been talking about the Matthew McConaughey ads for Lincoln Motor for the past four months. Wait. No, that's not possible. They only came out in September. But it feels like four months. Because whenever I'm meeting someone, like at the Association of National Advertisers’ conference last week, I use the Lincoln Motor campaign to break the ice. 

I'm using it as a kind of social anthropology gauge for who I'm dealing with at that moment. If they say, "I think those new Lincoln ads are a brilliant example of driving an emotional engagement with a brand that represents Cyrus the Bull," I usually tag them for sociopaths or people who haven't seen their psychopharmacologists in the suggested three-month period, not that I'd know about that. I'm clean. 

Well, one thing you can say about the ads: they are polarizing. And they have accomplished one thing. Big awareness. They’ve been spoofed by Conan, "South Park," Ellen. The problem is even the spoofs have ignored Lincoln. And has the campaign boosted consideration? According to new data from YouGov BrandIndex, not so much, even with the parodies. 



YouGov says Lincoln ad awareness is way up. Among people shopping for a car, awareness since the campaign launch has doubled from 15% to 32%. For Boomers, it has gone from 16% to 28%. Overall adult age 18 and over rose from 14% to 23%. No move for Millennials.

Consideration is still at about 8%, according to YouGov numbers. This speaks to celebrity marketing and its benefits and dangers regardless of product category. Using a celebrity is definitely guaranteed to bring you awareness, good or bad. Nothing wrong with that. Especially for a brand of which few are seriously aware, or are considering if they are aware. Any awareness is good as long as no bull was hurt in the process. 

But what's the point if you are mostly providing a public service — giving people in the marketing business something to talk about to break the ice; free publicity for the celebrity and the studio making his latest film (Come to think of it, the spaceship in "Interstellar" kind of looks like a Lincoln. I wonder if that was on purpose. I'll have to chase that one down); and giving comedians something to do at home. 

In any case, I guarantee you that while some people are saying, "Yes, McConaughey, sure, I saw him in the ad, sure, but how about that Lincoln?" ... Wait, nobody is saying that, obviously. Does awareness mean anything if it isn't awareness about the product? Does it mean anything if it's just "Yes, I am aware that Lincoln is a car company that somehow goes forward and back at the same time (which is what “South Park” toyed with)." The problem with famous-people ads is that if it amounts to little more than paid product placement, then you might as well just do product placement. 

A great example of using a celebrity in a strong way is the work for the Lenovo Yoga tablet featuring Ashton Kutcher. It works so well because, yes, it’s entertaining because he’s so offbeat, but also because it’s believable: he's well known as a tech startup guy, very savvy, but also a great spokesperson because you have no doubt that he's the guy who would use the Yoga tablet. If anyone would, he would. The other critical point: the creative (Saatchi & Saatchi, I think) also manages not to let Kutcher upstage the tablet because as he uses it, you see all the amazing stuff it can do! How cool is that. I want one. 

And you actually can build brand consideration for an expensive premium product by talking about it. Jaguar just did it with its new "Villains" ad featuring actor Nicholas Hoult, who shows us the inner workings of the vehicles. The bottom line: if I come away from it knowing the celebrity, and the brand, but not seeing a viable connection, and not really seeing the depth of the product, it's a half-finished job.

1 comment about "When Is An Ad Featuring A Celebrity Expensive Product Placement? ".
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  1. Karl Greenberg from MediaPost, October 26, 2014 at 10:57 p.m.

    an addendum. The SNL spoof of the ad this weekend actually gave a lot of attention to the brand. Boy will it be interesting to see the ROI on this when sales numbers start coming out.

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