The Fame Shame: Why celebrity ads make me want to melt off my own face

Andrew Boulton is a copywriter with a decade of scribbling experience at places like Egg the online bank, some top agencies in the Midlands and once for a man who carved dolphins out of cheese.

He was nominated for the Professional Publishers Association Award for Business Media Columnist of the Year despite having little or no grasp of the semi colon. He has decent hair but a disappointing beard. You can follow him on Twitter @Boultini.

If Ian McShane advertised cheese I would buy that (but only if he was dressed as Lovejoy while doing it). Aside from that, celebrity endorsements of products tend to make me angry and sad.

I understand that I am rather in the minority in this respect. The various collection of fiends and scoundrels I work with here at Together are often telling me that celebrity endorsements of a product are a perfectly acceptable (not to mention successful) marketing tool.

This certainly would not be the first time they have been right and I wrong. I was once humiliatingly forced to concede that Ron Weasley was in fact not Hans Solo for the 21st century. (We are, as you can imagine, terribly busy.)

However, despite my grumpiness regarding celebrities in adverts, I do believe there is some merit to my arguments against them.

Rather helpfully, Martin Clunes’ breezy approach to road safety has just recently seen him booted off the Churchill ads. Should Martin have driven a little bit slower Churchill? Oooooh yes.

The fact that the same company had to dispose of Vic Reeves from their ads for similar driving indiscretions is a great big bulldog poo in the pocket of those businesses and agencies who trust in the common sense and decency of celebrities.

But even I must admit that the correct celebrity endorsement can not only create an extremely appealing marketing campaign it can also considerably enhance the public perception of a brand.

For example, David Tennant is a ridiculously likeable individual and as such his presence in the Virgin Media ads has gone some way to helping me forget about the 4000 hours I have spent weeping down the phone to their contact centre.

But I do think it’s fair for me to say that the successes are considerably outweighed by the dreadful failures, that make me want to rip off my own head and shove it in the tumble dryer with a sheet of Bounce.

Exhibit A: Kerry Katona’s presence in the Iceland adverts thoroughly and irrevocably tainted the brand as a destination for feckless, uncaring mothers who would happily cater for their child’s birthday party with a bag of 30,000 chicken nuggets. The ads saw them, as well as Ms Katona, become a butt of many unkind (although sadly accurate) jokes and their current TV spots reek of damage repair.

Exhibit B: if the lesson from the above example is to invest in a more likeable (and well behaved) celebrity ambassador then George Clooney’s abysmal Nespresso adverts sink that hypothesis faster than a chubby otter.

George, who theoretically is handsome and charming enough to sell us underpants made from badger teeth, has inexplicably lent himself to these painfully stilted ads. The Clooney who mugs his way through a raft of implausible coffee based scenarios is less our George from ‘Oceans 11’ than the buffoon who very, very nearly killed off the Batman films.

I could go on. And on. And on. Neil Morrisey and Lesley Ash gurning their way through a Homebase ad. The normally wonderful Ray Winstone bizarrely getting betting tips from his own enormous, disembodied head. Any advert containing John Cleese.

The formula therefore seems incredibly simple. 1. Pick a likeable celebrity who realistically embodies your brand (trying to persuade people that multi-millionaire footballer Michael Owen did his shopping in Asda was far less likely to hit the back of the net than the tiny chap himself).

2. Write a good ad. Create a scenario and script that will allow your chosen celebrity to showcase the characteristics that have made them popular in the first place. Don’t get a famously patriotic sportsman like Stuart Pearce to appear in a Pizza Hut advert where he makes light of England’s painful exit from a major football tournament.

Don’t let the world’s most attractive and charismatic man come across as a slightly creepy and strangely coffee-obsessed clown.

There are countless good examples of the right celebrity with the right concept that have created likeable and persuasive ads. Kevin Bacon’s current turn in the EE ads is a case in point.

Bruce Willis’ dressing gown-clad turn in the recent Sky advert is another perfect example – humorously and unexpectedly subverting the general perception that Bruce Willis is (and do not judge me for I love ‘Die Hard’ more than I intend to love my unborn children) a bit of an arse.

I live in hope that these fairly obvious principles will be adhered to in the future. I do however, rather miserably suspect that ‘genius’ ideas such as getting Gary and Phil Neville to advertise Lynx will never be far from our screens.

Actually, ‘Lynx Nev’ might not be a bad idea. They can have that one for nowt.


Andrew Boulton is a copywriter at the Together Agency. He is a tiny bit ashamed for calling Bruce Willis an arse.

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