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question of the week

Attention wars: return of the celebrity ad

In a galaxy not so far away ... Samuel L Jackson has traded a lightsaber for a loaf of bread as the ad industry embraces the re-emergence of the celebrity ad - but why now in an age of influencers?

By conor nichols

Whether the Hollywood strikes have put them out of work or they just need a little extra cash (or both), a flurry of celebrity actors have been featuring in British ads in recent times. From Chris Rock helping launch BetMGM in the UK, to Katy Perry for Just Eat and Kevin Bacon continuing to market EE as ‘the UK’s best network’, the advertising world clearly believes the ROI on A-listers is too good to pass up.

Most recently, Samuel L Jackson has taken the UK (and bread-lovers) by surprise by featuring in Warburton’s latest ad. The star taps into the ‘great vengeance and furious anger’ he once portrayed as Jules Winnfield in Quentin Taratino’s Pulp Fiction, joining the likes of Sylvester Stallone, George Clooney and Robert De Niro in starring in Warburtons campaigns over the years. And Jackson’s acting and bread-promoting peer De Niro is also said to be starring in an Uber advertisement - though he has confirmed he will unfortunately (or fortunately) not be reprising his role as Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese’s 1979 classic Taxi Driver.

Leaving actors to one side, iconic singers - at least in the eyes of boomers and millennials - Michael Buble and Rick Astley are also set to star in Asda and Sainsbury’s Christmas campaigns respectively. Superstar singers are clearly also in the market for a bit of ad work right now.

It is fair to say that the celebrity ad has returned. But while brands have always been seduced by big stars, in a world of digital, social media and influencer marketing are A-listers still needed to cut-through the noise? In an increasingly cluttered world, does industry creativity still need to lean on the sight of a famous face? Is the cult of the celebrity ad still powerful?

We ask a host of industry creatives for their opinions.

Regan Warner, executive creative director, McCann London

We are seeing an influx of celebrity ads lately – what's the deal, right? Well, let’s break it down: celebrities have been marketing darlings for ages. They bring star power, charisma, and a massive fan base to the table, making them total attention magnets. Plus, having a celeb endorse your product can give your brand instant credibility and trust – that's gold in this noisy marketplace. 

Let’s take the Contour Cube, a little unknown facial ice tool, yep, you read that correctly, a facial ICE tool. It can help reduce puffiness, brighten our complexion, stimulate blood circulation, and lift skin. Kendall Jenner posted about her love for this ‘ice cube holder’ as part of her go-to morning routine. Within two weeks, this entrepreneur sells $25,000 worth of products. Now this worked, especially on social media because it was truly authentic, which I think is key.

Times have changed. Social media and influencer marketing have levelled the playing field. You've got micro and nano-influencers with smaller followings, but they're super engaged and can deliver targeted and authentic messages. So, brands are rethinking the whole celebrity game.

The cult of the celebrity ad isn't dead, but it's definitely evolved. Today's consumers want authenticity and a real connection with brands. So, it's not just about slapping a famous face on your ad; it's about crafting a story that resonates deeply with your audience. And using the celebrity in an authentic way. Samuel L. Jackson yelling, works. Snoop Dogg being chilled and singing works. Ryan Reynolds being, well, Ryan Reynolds works. They can still create buzz and visibility that's off the charts, perfect for brands looking for widespread exposure.

In this ever-changing marketing world, the celebrity ad still has its magic, but it's got to be used wisely to get the results you want. Long live the celebrity ad.

Ian Heartfield, creative founder, New Commercial Arts

When someone asks you what you do for a living, and you say you work in advertising, the next question will always be: “So what ads have you made?” Now you could say you made a campaign with a micro influencer that reached its target market highly effectively. Or you could say you made those ads with Dame Judi Dench in it. I know which one I’d rather say. But it’s not just about making dinner party conversations flow a little easier (although that is without doubt a bonus). The celeb driven campaign is as effective now as it has ever been and the proof is in the pudding. Since The Dame came onboard, the MoneySuperMarket campaign is proving to be working better than any MoneySuperMarket campaign that’s gone before. Celebs still work, and if it ain’t broke don’t try and fix it, which is why you will be seeing more A-list talent in NCA campaigns in the not too distant future. Sometimes a celeb is a powerful shorthand for what a brand stands for, sometimes it can be a shorthand for what it stands against. For the latter, watch this space…

Toby Allen, executive creative director, The&Partnership

In an ideal world our creativity would be so jaw droppingly awesome everyone would be talking about it, but in the real world of 2023 our ideas need all the help they can get to enter culture. Our creativity needs to be amplified, and celebs are one way to do that. So why celebs, and why now? Mass influencer marketing means it is getting harder to cut through at scale, so while a micro approach is perfect for some brands you can see the logic of other brands going for bigger names. In an era of low trust, well-known A-listers are also a shortcut to familiarity. And when celeb-founded brands become billion-dollar enterprises, it's no surprise marketeers want a bit of that for themselves. So, while the old school purist views enlisting a celeb as a borrowed interest, a more modern take is that it is an invaluable cultural distribution.

Felipe Serradourada Guimaraes, deputy executive creative director and partner, BBH

I'm not sure we are having a resurgence of celebrity advertising, I think it may be a coincidence that these are all out so close together. Celebrity advertising will never disappear, borrowed interest is such a quick and powerful shortcut for what brands want to say or stand for. For that reason, it makes sense they will always, and should exist.

However, they only work if we're using them in the right way. If we're using celebrities to supercharge a good idea, then great. It's when you throw something at an idea to make up for poor thinking, I think it's a problem. Afterall, a bad idea with a celebrity will still be just that, a bad idea.


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