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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.

1 thought on “Lessons from Dumb Spokesperson Campaigns”

  1. Rohit, though I see this was posted quite some time ago, I felt compelled to respond as I think you made such an excellent point here. I have also wondered at some of those same celebrity spokespersons you commented upon. I am in complete agreement with you about which ones “work” and which ones absolutely don’t!

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A keynote speaker on trends, innovation, marketing, storytelling and diversity.

Rohit Bhargava is on a mission to inspire more non-obvious thinking in the world. He is the #1 Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author of eight books and is widely considered one of the most entertaining and original speakers on disruption, trends and marketing in the world.

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