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The celebrity spokesperson is dead…or is it?

May 31 2016

Sara Frey

If you believe what you hear, the celebrity spokesperson is dead. Talk is rampant in blogs and at conferences that the savvy millennial consumer doesn’t respond to paid endorsement. They say that customers want to hear from other customers, that UGC is the silver bullet. And while peer-to-peer marketing is certainly effective, the days of the celebrity spokesperson are far from over.

Ever heard of Taylor Swift? Within just two hours of posting her first commercial for Apple Music, the video had two million views on Facebook and 725,000 likes on Instagram.1 Remember those Dodge Durango spots featuring Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy? They weren’t just good for a few laughs. Sales increased 59 percent immediately following those ads.2 And last year, Jim Beam reported a 43-percent growth following the launch of its “Make History” campaign with Mila Kunis.3

Like Betty White and other victims of an internet death hoax, the celebrity spokesperson is alive and well.

Partnering with an established celebrity offers brands something that a peer-to-peer strategy cannot. Millennials are actually twice as likely as Gen-Xers – and four times as likely as Baby Boomers – to say they are influenced by celebrities.4

When you cast the right person in the right context, you’re able to connect with a large number of your target audience and communicate on an almost subconscious level. It’s like welcoming a friend of a friend into your circle. The mere fact that you and your customers relate to the same celebrity opens the door to building – or strengthening – your relationship. And because many see the celebrity lifestyle as aspirational, their endorsements can carry a greater level of influence.

Which isn’t to say that any celebrity can close any sale. They can’t. Whether you’re looking for someone to rep your car on the small screen or promote your product on social, it’s important to make sure you get the right person. So what matters when selecting a celebrity spokesperson for the millennial audience and what doesn’t?

Age is just a number

You may be surprised to learn that millennials respond favorably to celebrity endorsements regardless of the age of the spokesperson. As we found in our work with Dave & Buster’s, expertise overruled age in the casting of Fantasy Football guru Matthew Berry. In a campaign built to drive 18- to 34-year-olds to host their Fantasy Football parties at Dave & Buster’s, Berry proved to be the perfect person to deliver the message. He had created a name for himself in this arena, and millennials heeded his advice. Following the campaign, same-store-sales estimates were approximately 10 percent higher for the quarter and net income surged 282 percent.

Relatability is required

According to a study from PHD’s Creative Collective, millennials are attracted to a certain type of celebrity – one who is approachable and relatable.5 Known as “Similar Strangers”, these identifiable celebrities are the type of people your audience is convinced they would not only like, but would like them in return. Celebrities like Taylor Swift, Anna Kendrick. Ellie Kemper. Jimmy Kimmel. Jim Gaffigan. All of these celebrities have a friendly and somewhat quirky persona that translates into relatability.

Of course, these celebrities wouldn’t work for every brand. And we would argue that they don’t. Kendrick’s self-deprecating personality was an incredible fit for Newcastle’s No Bollocks campaign, just as Swift’s confident approach was for Keds. But Kemper’s personality doesn’t align with the luxury image Buick is trying to project in the same way that Gaffigan’s “everyday dad persona” does with Chrysler. Kemper is certainly charming and approachable, but that’s not the only thing that should be considered.

Your personalities must pair well together

It’s important that the spokesperson you choose shares values and interests with your brand. This type of relationship works best when the audience believes that the endorser is being authentic. Remember this old chestnut: If your company was a car, what kind of car would it be?

When selecting a celebrity spokesperson, you also have to consider: If that celebrity drove a car, what kind of car would it be? If your audience wouldn’t believe that your spokesperson would drive your car, it’s probably not going to work. Millennials are a skeptical bunch that can spot a lie from a mile away. Unless you can use the fact that your spokesperson doesn’t like your product (à la Kendrick and Newcastle), you need to re-evaluate.

It’s all about telling the right story

In the end, the strategy behind how you use a spokesperson may be the most important part. Many big brands and agencies take a lazy approach to incorporating a spokesperson into a campaign. But it’s not enough to sit America’s Sweetheart in front of a camera and tell us she likes your lotion.

If you really want to win millennials, you need to weave a unique story into the message. Create a concept that brings your spokesperson and your brand together in a way that wouldn’t work for anyone else. It’s the difference between making an ad and making a moment worth remembering.