Just Like You, Only Better

by Tanya Dernaika

I love pitching to prospective clients, but I tend to take the win – or – lose – outcome personally. That’s because, in our industry, competing with other agencies for a piece of business feels very much like a popularity contest – a professional version of “speed dating” in fact. Like it or not, a person’s ability to sell is linked to their aspirational level and whether the client thinks they’re awesome (or not). Brand owners use a similar principle when investing hefty sums of money hiring celebrities to be “the face” of their brand.

Marketers bank on potential consumers finding an enhanced, positive reflection of themselves in that famous personality and, more importantly, wanting to copy the choice of product/service/behaviour the star agrees to endorse. Take me as an example. I’d love to be as funny a writer as Ricky Gervais, (a girl can dream no?) but thankfully I’m not delusional which is why I’ve settled for being a measly fan and one of his 7.4m Twitter followers happily consuming anything he’s involved in. This new Optus spot featuring Gervais, announcing the partnership with Netflix, made me laugh out loud.

According to Hamish Pringle, author of Celebrity Sells:

“Celebrities influence how we look, how we dress, where we live and, ultimately, our body shape."

And that’s why, for the right price, a growing number of A to D list stars like P. Diddy and the Kardashian sisters will rent space in their twitter streams for large sums of money. Building a brand by association is not a new trend. In fact it’s the oldest marketing trick in the book, dating back to a time when kings and queens were considered fashion trend setters and people sought to emulate them by copying their style and purchase habits.

Rowntree chocolate box featuring King George V and Queen Mary:











What is new is the way celebrities are promoting brands. Classic endorsement ad featuring Sean Connery:














The days of the contrived sales pitch approach are long gone, but the format was parodied with great success by Dos Equis. Parody ads featuring The Most Interesting Man in the World:


Consumers may have outgrown the one-way broadcast, but their appetite for celebrity endorsements has not waned. Modern audiences respond well to pitches by their favorite stars, they just expect to be treated as savvier beings; in the know about how marketing works. Heineken Light spots starring Neil Patrick Harris are successful precisely because they feel more like comedy sketches than ads.

Good comedy is always a winner, but a more serious approach can also resonate, especially if it feels authentic and brings out the human side of a celebrity. Nike’s 2006 “Failure” campaign featuring Micheal Jordan is still considered one of the most memorable ads.

Almost a decade later, Jordan’s endorsement is as valuable today as it’s ever been. Gatorade’s Be Like Mike capitalizes on the basketball legend’s abilities to inspire a generation of athletes to “move, groove and dream”.

As long as people have a desire to become funnier, slicker, stronger, smarter, braver and more attractive versions of themselves, the celebrity endorsement approach will never get old, just better.