Lessons from Dumb Spokesperson Campaigns

In the PR world, I have witnessed no better way to throw hundreds of thousands of dollars down the drain than to pay some expensive and questionably effective spokesperson to do a range of marketing activities, satellite media tours, and limited half-day appearances.  True metrics supporting celebrity spokesperson choices are often difficult to find.  As an article in CMO magazine suggests, using a celebrity spokesperson is often an emotional choice (just feels right) by marketer or agency, where wishful thinking takes the place of intelligence. 

Here are several examples:

  1. Catherine Zeta Jones for Tmobile – As if *former* Tmobile customers needed another reminder of how little the company spends on improving their network quality in comparison to ad campaigns …
  2. NFL Refs for Miller Lite – Um, instead of an athlete – you chose the refs?  Point A, no one likes refs.  Point B, people usually think refs make bad calls – not "good calls."  Duh.
  3. Cheryl Crow for Dell – In light of the recent "Dell Hell" blog posts – you would think they might find a more credible/relevant spokesperson.  Or at least someone who you could believe actually owned a Dell at home … 

Clearly, bad campaign ideas don’t get better by using popular or well recognized spokespeople.  Relevance is still the ultimate requirement for effective marketing – an element successful spokesperson campaigns such as "Jared from Subway" illustrate (by the way, NOT a celebrity spokesperson).  His ads have single-handledly propelled Subway to achieve their brand positioning as the healthy fast food alternative.  Contrast this with the Baby Bob Super Bowl ads from Quiznos – which were not only stupid, but also helped them to blow millions of dollars.  Spokesperson campaigns are a mixed blessing – with much soul searching involved to get the right person on board.  For more and more of our clients, I have started to question whether it’s the right way to go.   

Blogger’s Addendum: Ogilvy PR has executed a number of celebrity spokesperson health campaigns, most notably with Morgan Freeman and Katie Couric on behalf of CDC’s Colorectal Cancer campaign.  I recently also posted about Yahoo’s Blog for Hope initiative using Celebrity bloggers.  Social marketing campaigns with volunteered/pro-bono time from celebrities are in a different realm to paid spokesperson campaigns – and I should note that we have seen extremely strong results from our efforts using spokespersons for these type of eadvocacy campaigns.

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