Why is it that so many brands use celebrities as spokespeople? Through whatever has fueled their fame (acting, sporting achievements, etc.), they have already moved through the first barrier every mature person develops: skepticism.
Skeptical consumers are not new. Wary of being sold “a bill of goods,” skepticism was personified in the great American Broadway hit, The Music Man. The main plot centers on a traveling salesman who arrives in a small town, gains the trust of everyone there and then cashes in his credibility selling them something he doesn’t have (namely music lessons). I remember, as a boy, playing the part of one of the town’s children. My mother had volunteered the whole family to be part of the production. If I remember correctly, I had one line, “Who, me?” that I stood and delivered during a scene where the Music Man was gaining his credibility by interacting with the children. I remember thinking to myself that there was no way I would have fallen for this con man in real life. The truth is, despite lessons portrayed in such stories as The Music Man, even when burned into the American psyche, we continue to fall for conmen and conwomen. And the reason is credibility.
Celebrities make an interesting case study in credibility. When we have watched them play a character on a favorite show or movie or have experienced the highs and lows with them of championship play, we begin to feel like we actually, personally know them. We begin to draw the curtain of skepticism.
When a brand is doing mass marketing through television or radio they don’t have the luxury of using a Brand Evangelist in your social circle. Perhaps someday technology will allow everyone to watch a Superbowl ad with each person seeing a different picture of a spokesperson. Uncle Jimmy for me, perhaps cousin Susan for you. Until then, marketers have to settle for Peyton Manning.
And Peyton is great. We have seen him win, we have seen him lose, and we have made an emotional connection to one degree or another. And the degree of the connection is directly associated to the degree to which we’ll make an irrational decision.
But there is a flaw, a kink in the system advertisers don’t want you to know. There is no rational connection at all between a celebrity and a product/service (even if the celebrity has used it). This is best characterized by the fall of Tiger Woods. After his personal life was exposed a few major brands dropped him as a spokesperson. Why? Was it because it’s impossible to be both a sex addict and be a reasonable spokesman for cars or apparel? No. It’s because it snapped the illusion. We really didn’t know Tiger Woods. He wasn’t the person we each had made him out to be in our own individual minds. It severed the emotional connection. No connection. No sales.
Several years ago I heard a radio ad for a men’s clothing store called Jos. A. Banks that was having a ‘buy one suit, get two free’ sale. I had just taken a job where I would need to wear a suit every day. It was perfect timing. I was skeptical, thinking it a marketing ploy. This sale was a classic example of a rational marketing message. They didn’t appeal to my emotions telling me how distinguished I would look or baiting me with the number of ladies I would score wearing their suits. They appealed directly to my pocket book.
I walked into Jos. A. Banks feeling rather sheepish. I thought for sure the employees would see me and think, “Oh great, another person only here because of the sale. When will this be over?” Instead, I found them very friendly. They took time to ask my suit wearing history and what my upcoming needs were. I told them I would be wearing suits five days a week and currently had none. One of the employees took me over to the rack and showed me suit and shirt options that could be mixed and matched to maximize my purchase so that three outfits could extend over five days. I was thrilled!
Unfortunately, it was just two months later when I bent over to pick up a piece of trash and a small piece of metal extruding from a window a/c unit ripped a strip of material on the upper part of my suit jacket sleeve. What horrible luck, I thought. The buy one, get two free sale was long gone and I had no idea if I could purchase jackets separately or not. Then the thought occurred to me that perhaps they have extra sleeves and could just sew on a new one, salvaging my bargain purchase.
I went back into Jos. A. Banks, this time feeling even more sheepish. Despite how crazy it sounded, I asked if there was a way they could replace just the arm. The employee looked skeptical, but said he would ask the tailor in the back room if my plea was possible. He took my coat, disappeared in the back, and shut the door. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how silly my request sounded. Five minutes later he returned. Only, instead of carrying bad news, he had a brand new suit in his hands. An entire suit! He hung it on the rack and smoothed it out as if preparing for me to take home.
“Do you have a dollar?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I mumbled, dumfounded.
“I’ll need it to put a transaction in the computer,” he said. Apparently every transaction had to be worth something.
It took me a moment to realize I was getting a completely new suit for merely one dollar, two whole months after my original purchase.
You see, like 99% of other businessmen wearing suits, I don’t really know the difference between the material, the cut or the stitching. I only know three things about suits: how they feel, how they fit and the experience I had that day with the customer service rep.
It was an emotional experience that has made me a Jos. A. Banks customer forever.
Emotional appeals in advertising work because consumers feel before they think. Emotional marketing addresses immediate wants and helps overcome skepticism. It’s a known fact that emotionally based campaigns outperform rationally based campaigns, as much as double, in all the metrics that count – sales, market share, profit. Even in business categories that many would assume are rational, such as computers and financial services, people still go with their gut feelings first.