A new research report claims that celebrity endorsements in the form of TV commercials are almost always a bad deal for the brand. The study covered every nationally televised ad in the first 11 months of 2010 -- and saw that ones with celebrities underperformed other types of ads, often drastically. On average, celebrity ads had a negative "lift," while non-celebrity ads did much better. Of course, you can hide a lot of details in aggregate numbers, and part of it might just be that the celebrity ads were done poorly. It's possible that a good celebrity ad can still be effective, but what seems clear is that "just add a celebrity" does not help at all. The study's authors posit that consumers don't care as much about celebrity endorsements in these social networking days:
Today's consumer is a totally different animal than the consumer of even five years ago, meaning that what was effective and influential five years ago is not necessarily so today, as today's consumer is more likely to be influenced by someone in their social network than a weak celebrity connection. Today's consumer is informed, time-compressed, and difficult to impress, and they are only influenced by ads that are relevant and provide information. They don't want to have products pushed at them, even from a celebrity. In fact, the data show that relevance and information attributes were key missing ingredients from most celebrity ads.
I'm not sure I completely buy that. After all, celebrities are some of the most popular people to follow or friend on social networks. I think it may be more a case of poor utilization of celebrities, where the endorsements are seen (reasonably and accurately) as being fake, rather than sincere. I think when a celebrity really does like a product and then also agrees to do an endorsement, those can be effective. But a pure "let's put this celebrity with this product" sort of thing is quickly dismissed as inauthentic.
While it's been talked about for ages, the Senate has now passed a bill that attempts to force TV commercials to be at a similar volume to the shows that they're paired with. As many people have complained over the years, it often feels that the commercials are set to a much higher volume to gain attention. Of course, in reality, this tends to annoy more than anything else. The so-called CALM Act (Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation -- we really need to stop cutesy naming of bills) gives the FCC the mandate to make sure commercials are at a reasonable volume. The House has passed a similar bill, and once the two are aligned, it's likely this will become law.
However, as John Abell points out at the Wired link above, this probably won't matter too much. Fewer and fewer people seem to actually watch TV commercials these days, and more TV viewing is shifting to the internet (where these rules won't apply). And, while I agree that louder commercials can be annoying, is this really the sort of thing that needs to involve the federal government?
Oh boy! Where to start on this one. Normally, when you have a commercial on TV, you would like it to go viral so more people see it. We've certainly seen some companies use this to their advantage. But what if the actors in those commercials don't want it to go viral? What if they happen to be (or hope to be) upstanding professionals, and the commercial involves them participating in frat-boyish fun, such as playing beer pong, which they hoped would only be seen in a tiny country on the other side of the globe? Well, that seems to be exactly what happened to a pair of unfortunate (but quite talented) beer pong players, who have now sued the producers of "The World's Funniest Commercials," TBS and Carlsberg beer.
You see, Scott Tipton and Christopher Kolb are really good at beer pong. So good, that Carlsberg hired them (and a few others) to perform in this commercial:
However, one of the guys was in law school at the time, and didn't want his future career prospects diminished by his beer pong prowess. Why? Because, as the complaint explains, "the plaintiffs' difficult trick-shots indicate substantial experience playing Beer-Pong, i.e., substantial experience drinking substantial quantities of beer -- a less than desirable image...." (emphasis in the original). He also did not want his (apparently beer pong ignorant) parents and grandparents to know of his amazing skills at the "most remarkable trick-shot, ricocheting the ping-pong ball four times off of uneven, angled surfaces, and into the beer cup with back-spin, after which both Tipton and Kolb celebrate exuberantly" (emphasis in the original). Because of this, he made sure that the agreement had geographic restrictions, such that it only showed in Denmark. The other guy was an actor, who claims he agreed to a "below standard" rate, knowing that the commercial was only for the Danish market.
But, of course, the video got some attention, and the producers of The World's Funniest Commercials decided to include it in their show (with Carlsberg's blessing) which aired in the US on TBS. Even worse, the producers used a clip from the commercial in their own commercial for the show. The guys then try to make the case that the TBS promo was the key reason why people watched the show, and their clip in the promo was the key part, and thus, they deserve 50% of all of TBS's advertising from the show. Good luck with that.
The lawsuit itself involves California's popular publicity rights law (that we've been talking about a lot lately) as well as a variety of other claims. However, in an age when we're already pointing out that geographic restrictions are obsolete, does it seem even remotely reasonable that the commercial would never be seen outside of Denmark?
And yes, the legal complaint makes sure to explain just what beer pong is, in case the court is unfamiliar with the... um... sport:
When we last saw the Old Spice man, he was on a horse, and demonstrated how a brilliantly clever ad could attract its own viewers, instead of trying to divert attention with an annoying or distracting ad. In the five months since the ad first aired, the ad has collected nearly 13 million views on YouTube and was also awarded the Grand Prix for film at this year's Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.
The Old Spice man is back, and once again, showing that he truly gets how to engage with his audience. Starting Monday, he began posting video responses to various Twitter, Facebook, and other social media commentary, oftentimes resulting in hilarity. Most of the over one hundred responses have been posted within a few hours of a tweet or comment, which is a blistering pace for an ad campaign with a traditional CPG company. My favorites are his response to Alyssa Milano and the one where Twitter user jsbeals asks Old Spice man to propose to his girlfriend for him:
Ad agency Wieden + Kennedy hit it out of the park again with this ad -- they were able to craft an infectiously viral ad campaign, while at the same time incorporating the brand as a key part of the message. After all, he's not "I'm on a horse" man, he's the Old Spice man. That said, while such a campaign may definitely drive awareness, awareness may not necessarily result in sales: according to SymphonyIRI, sales of Old Spice Red Zone (the product featured in the ad) actually dropped 7 percent.
Then again, surely jsbeals will be buying a few cases of Red Zone in appreciation of the help from Old Spice man (his girlfriend accepted the proposal).
For anyone watching the Olympics lately (despite the efforts of NBC -- really, NBC? Why air one of the most anticipated events of the games on MSNBC?! ), you may have seen this engaging Old Spice commercial where a man is magically transported from his bathroom, to a boat, and finally to a horse. The commercial was actually interesting enough for me to stop my TiVo and replay it twice when I first saw it.
The commercial itself has garnered over 2.5 million views on YouTube -- and that's just for the "official" version, there are many other accounts that have uploaded the commercial, which Old Spice has wisely not asked to be taken down (yet?). This serves as a fantastic reminder of a point that we've illustrated here before: advertising is content, and content is advertising. When you make a fantastic commercial like Old Spice did, not only do people actually seek out your commercial to see it, but they discuss it as well. I know personally that I have had no less than 10 discussions amongst my friends about the commercial. In fact, Leo Laporte's video, where he interviews the creators of the commercial about how it was done, has gotten over 100k views.
The big question is, however, how effective this ad was for actually increasing the sales of Old Spice.
Earlier this year, I randomly ended up in a fascinating conversation with a marketing guy from Pepsi, who was telling me about some of the online marketing efforts the company ran during the 2009 Super Bowl, saying that they got the same "response" as the multi-million dollar Super Bowl commercials got, but only cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, rather than millions. Based on that I have to admit I'm not all that surprised to find out (via The Infamous Joe) that Pepsi has decided not to buy any Super Bowl ads for the 2010 game, but will be investing a ton in some online promotions. This is after 23 straight years of Super Bowl ads by Pepsi, costing the company hundreds of millions of dollars. I'm sure that the Super Bowl will be just fine (it claims it's sold out 90% of its ads already, though the prices did drop a bit this year, apparently), but it does suggest that some may be realizing that there are better ways to get your message out than spending a ridiculous sum for a single commercial spot.
We still don't understand why AT&T called so much more attention to Verizon's ads that highlight AT&T's weak 3G network coverage by suing over the ads. Things were made worse when a judge refused to block the ads from airing. Perhaps finally realizing that all this was doing was creating free advertising for Verizon -- and more attention on the quality of AT&T's network -- the company has decided to drop the lawsuit. Apparently, instead, it's going to focus on its own misleading ad campaign.
The commercials are really entertaining in their own way, and have garnered hundreds of thousands of views -- again, demonstrating how good advertising is content. The guys making the videos also put up a short "behind the scenes" version of each video as well, to explain the backstory a bit more. The backstory on Cullman Liquidation is pretty entertaining as well.
But why are these guys doing this? Well, the whole thing is actually part of a promotion from another company, MicroBilt, that's trying to promote its own line of small business services. So it's paying for the whole thing -- showing how content is advertising. None of the videos are actually about MicroBilt, but in sponsoring the entire site and the whole process, it's helping to get its name out there in a fun (non-intrusive, non-annoying, non-sneaky) manner. It's not about product placement or trying to "sneak" a brand into something. Everything's totally upfront. But it's a fun project, with highly entertaining content that shows both how advertising is content and how content is advertising.
It's becoming almost comical how often this happens: a new technology comes along for consuming/watching/listening/distributing some sort of entertainment content, and the industry freaks out. The technology is going to destroy the industry, and laws must be put in place, royalties must be paid, technology must be crippled, etc. And yet... the impending doomsday scenario never shows up. The player piano did not kill the sheet music market. The gramophone did not kill live concerts. The VCR did not kill the movie industry. And, here we are, with TV folks finallyrealizing that the DVR is not killing TV, but actually helping it. Basically, lots of people still watch ads, even if they're watching a time-delayed program. What's funny is that throughout the article you have execs insisting that this was a shock to everyone and no one could have predicted it. Except, of course, we wrote about the same basic thing three and a half years ago. But no one listens to us.
The article doesn't even mention the biggest benefit to DVRs -- even beyond the fact that people watching them still watch commercials: that it allows people to become more connected to certain shows, since they're less likely to ever miss an episode. That makes them more likely to watch those shows regularly (with or without the commercials). If someone can't keep up otherwise, they'll just let the show go entirely.
The other amusing finding in the article is that NBC's attempt to "DVR-proof" itself by moving Jay Leno to 10pm (on the theory that more people would watch it live when they couldn't fast forward through the ads) has totally backfired. That's because it also means that if people miss the show, they don't go back and watch it days later (who wants to watch stale jokes?) -- so fewer ads get watched in the long run (compared to a show that would be recorded and watched later). Oops. In the meantime, can we go back to those TV execs who were threatening to sue TiVo just a few years ago, and ask for an apology for wasting everyone's time?
Back in 1997, the band Aqua released a song called "Barbie Girl," that was actually somewhat critical of "Barbie doll" culture. Mattel, famous for its rather aggressive intellectual property stance, wasted little time in suing the band, claiming the song infringed on the company's rights. In 2002, everyone's favorite appeals court judge (seriously, the guy never fails to entertain) Alex Kozinski told Mattel too bad, parody songs are a part of what you get for being a cultural icon -- and included the classic line: "The parties are advised to chill."
It took seven years since that decision, but apparently Mattel had decided to heed Judge Kozinski's suggestion. Reader Sallo alerts us to the news that Mattel has actually licensed the song for a commercial -- though, they "adjusted" some of the lyrics to make it a little more pro-Barbie, rather than mocking-Barbie. Still, that's quite a jump: from suing the band for infringement to actually licensing and using the song in just a few years.