Study Begs Brands to Stop Paying Charlie Sheen to Endorse Things


Gwen Stefani for HP, Michael Jordan for Hanes, Dr. Dre for HP, Peyton Manning for Sony, Lady Gaga for Polarioid, Lance Armstong for Radio Shack, Michael Vick for… ArTran?

A new study confirms what a lot of people on both ends of the advertising paradigm suspect: celebrity endorsements aren’t worth it. My colleague Sheila Shayon earlier pondered this question — find out why the evidence is swinging in favor of taking back the swag bags and shutting down the gravy train.[more]

Ace Metrix’s study covered 2,600 ads and found that “celebrity ads do not perform any better than non-celebrity ads, and in some cases they perform much worse… whether or not a celebrity endorses a product was unimportant in determining whether an ad resonated with viewers.” That’s right — that sound you hear is the distant screams of the Kardashian family.

Of course, as with all studies, there is some nuance. The study is a great read in its its entirety, especially for the outliers and the details, and it’s well worth doing a little more digging into its findings.

While any celebrity ads fared poorly, endorsements coming from Oprah saw huge lift. But even the positive results of some celebrity endorsements saw diminishing returns, “repeated successes were limited to Carl Weathers.” (Aren’t they always?)

Of course, demographics account for a lot of the scoring. Would you be shocked to learn that “Jason Alexander’s ads for Jenny Craig (fared) better among older women and worse among younger men”?

For football fans who would enjoy taking in a paragraph trashing the Manning family, the report is a must read for these stats:

In some cases, it may be that the celebrity spokespeople are doing worse than doing nothing at all.

Think about Tiger Woods and Accenture, Brett Favre and Wrangler, Charlie Sheen and Hanes, Michael Vick and anything, Kate Moss and H&M, and Nike and Justin Gatlin (forgot about that one, right?) When celebrities make headlines for scandals, the brands are inevitably dragged into the fray, with all subsequent exposure of their brands with the celebrities reminding consumers about the scandal, not the brand.

One caveat to the failure of celebrity endorsement is the use of unusual, ironic or otherwise meta “anti-endorsements” to raise eyebrows and draw attention. Ace Metrix notes this in their study, saying, “Clever and creative use of celebrities in advertisements can be effective given the right context.”

One of the right contexts is walking the fine line between the celebrity being unrelated to the endorsed product and the celebrity being wildly unrelated to the endorsed product. For example, Payton Manning matched with Sony is a snooze; but Betty White and Abe Vigoda matched with Snickers is funny (and engaging). The difference maker here seems to be the humor (i.e., Manning falling flat under a flattened Justin Timberlake bombs, while octogenarian Betty White getting leveled by a pass rush is hilarious).

On the other hand, minor celebrity, creatively used, may also buck the trend. An example of this is how Wonderful Pistachios used (in)famous celebrities and D-listers such as Levi Johnston and Rod Blagojevich to sell nuts (below). No brand in its right mind would want to be associated with shamed ex-governor Rod “f**cking golden” Blagojevich which is why using him was nuts — and thus perfect (does that make sense?)

Of course, as with all studies, one should look to the methodology and take into account all sorts of caveats, including how focus groups often lie to themselves.

But the report is a highly recommended, fascinating read and should genuinely make brands question the massive endorsement deals that have been offered to entertainers, athletes and other big names.

Below, a few of the brand-celebrity pairings the report identifies as having “the worst lift” on sales, starting with Lance Armstrong for Radio Shack:

Kenny Mayne for Gillette:

Dale Earnhardt Jr. for Nationwide:

Martha Stewart for Macy’s:

P. Diddy (Sean Combs) for Ciroc:

Charles Barkley for Taco Bell:

Chad Johnson for

Conan O’Brien for American Express:

and Jane Krakowski for Tropicana: