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Why Brad Pitt is losing to Clooney in the coffee wars

In real life, George Clooney and Brad Pitt are friends — they’ve made half a dozen films together, including the blockbuster Ocean’s 11 series. But now there’s one area where they’re bitter rivals: coffee commercials. Brad Pitt has just made his debut as De’Longhi’s new brand ambassador in a chilled-out ad which puts him head to head with Clooney, who’s starred as himself in Nespresso ads for 15 years. We at System1 ran Brad’s new “Perfetto” ad for De’Longhi through our TestYourAd system to see how it compares with some Clooney classics.

The Brad Pitt ad is quite easily summarized. Brad Pitt makes coffee. Brad Pitt drinks the coffee. Brad Pitt also rides his bike and takes things easy. In short, this isn’t an ad with too much in the way of story. Instead it’s an exercise in vibe - MC Saatchi brought in the director, choreographer and composer from the Oscar-winning La La Land to get the chill atmosphere right and write an original piece of music for Brad’s debut.

The Clooney Nespresso ads, on the other hand, tend to be packed with story and incident - in a classic 2015 ad the actor is paired with an incredulous Danny DeVito, who wants to get in on the instant coffee movement. Whereas in a 2017 spot, special effects let Clooney jump between famous movies in search of the perfect coffee.

Clooney or Pitt?

Vibe or story — which one works better? The results, when you show the ads to ordinary people, are brutally clear. On the TestYourAd 1-5 Star Rating measuring emotional response to ads and predicting long-term effectiveness, Brad’s chill coffee moment for De’Longhi lands a modest 2.3-Star score in the UK and a slightly better 3.1-Star score in the US. It’s not terrible - but it’s nothing to shout about, and in effectiveness terms probably not worth paying one of the world’s top stars for. Even worse, the Brand Fluency (ease of recognition) and short-term Spike Rating are actively poor in both markets. A few people like the ads because of Brad Pitt, but several viewers feel contempt for him, and the majority are neutral.

De’Longhi have made an ad that’s a showcase for their leading man without actually giving him anything to do, and it’s left viewers unmoved.

Now compare the Clooney ad with DeVito. In both the US and UK it ends up around 2 whole Star Ratings higher than the De’Longhi Pitt ad. In the US, in fact, Clooney hits 5-Stars, the maximum score and one reached by only around 1% of commercials. It also scores exceptionally well on short-term Spike and is strong on Brand Fluency. On every metric, it is a much more effective ad.

Why? Because it’s entertaining and funny. Yes, people enjoy seeing Clooney, but an ad with George Clooney simply making and drinking coffee would not work as well. What creates the positive emotion is the story Clooney is in and the sense that he enjoys doing this and doesn’t take himself too seriously. De’Longhi, meanwhile, made an ad that’s a showcase for their new leading man without actually giving him anything to do, and it left viewers unmoved.

De’Longhi and Nespresso are both high-end products - not quite luxuries, but not everyday purchases either. For both brands, recruiting a top Hollywood star works as a kind of costly signalling - our brand must be good if we can afford to do this. But the truth is to get the most out of your brand ambassadors you have to use them well, and that means giving them scripts and stories which bring out their charm and personality.

While this might seem like a straightforward point, many advertisers have failed to understand the importance of story arcs and personality in commercials. For instance, Orlando Wood in his book Lemon analyzed IPA effectiveness award submissions, and found that a strong story arc and brand idea is more effective in driving awareness.

If Brad Pitt’s relationship with De’Longhi continues, there’s plenty of time for a course correction. Putting the actor into a story and his coffee moment into a context would almost certainly improve response. George Clooney and Nespresso, meanwhile, have stressed the brand’s social purpose in their most recent ads, which lack the entertainment factor of Clooney’s previous antics. So there’s room for Pitt to improve and even overtake his coffee-ad rival. For now, though, the public agrees with Shania Twain: “So you’re Brad Pitt? That don’t impress me much.”

Jon Evans is chief marketing officer at System1.

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