Report: Charlie Sheen May Not Shine, But Stars Are Aligned As Print Ad Activists

February 24, 2011: A new report on the use of celebrities in marketing indicates that, despite the downside of attaching a famous face such as Tiger Woods or Charlie Sheen to your product,  print ads that contained a celebrity endorser produced 9.4% higher consumer readership than ads without a celebrity endorser.

In addition, print ads containing an entertainment celebrity garnered 15.1% more readership, on average, than ads without a celebrity, while the use of sports celebrities raised consumer readership by 7.5%, according to the Survey of the American Consumer from Starch Advertising Research, a division of GfK MRI, New York.

"In terms of helping with the first task in . . . getting consumers to read your ad, these data show that a celebrity endorsement moves the readership needle."

Starch said it analyzed almost 80,000 print ads that appeared in consumer magazines between December 2009 and September 2010. According to the report, most consumers will not admit that they made a buying decision based on the endorsement of a Hollywood or sports star, high-profile endorsers are successful in getting consumers to take the first, vital step: Stop and read the ad.

"In general, very few consumers will admit that a celebrity endorsement influences their decision to buy a product," Anne Marie Kelly, svp-marketing and strategic planning for GfK MRI, said in a statement.  "However, in terms of helping with the first task in filling up the purchase funnel — getting consumers to read your ad —these data show that a celebrity endorsement moves the readership needle in magazines."

The study is in direct contrast to recent marketing research showing that celebrities have lost their influence, in particular when it comes to popular Super Bowl ads. According to University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire marketing professors Dr. Chuck Tomkovick and Dr. Rama Yelkur, research involving "all 538 Super Bowl ads that aired from 2000-09" showed a decline in the power of celebrity endorsements.

"In the past, including a celebrity in your ad was a no-brainer," Tomkovick said in a statement. "For years the use of celebrities was among the top predictors of popular Super Bowl ads. But our most recent research shows that's no longer true. Celebrities have lost their influence when it comes to popular Super Bowl ads."

According to the research, "Humor, animals and product category have endured for 20 years as high predictors of popularity," Tomkovick said. "New to the list are children and limiting the amount of information shared about a product."

Super Bowl XLV, which aired on Fox, contained numerous ads with celebrity endorsers, including Sketchers (Kim Kardashian), (Joan Rivers, Danica Patrick and Jillian Michaels), Teleflora (Faith Hill) and Best Buy (Justin Bieber and Ozzy Osbourne). Results were mixed, depending on which of the various post-game ad surveys were cited.

In its study, Starch did indicate that such celebrities as Brett Favre, Charlie Sheen and Tiger Woods — each of whom has been involved in personal situations detrimental to their public image — have been less effective in wooing consumers. Among others, Woods lost such marketing partners as Gatorade, AT&T and Gilette "owing to his marital infidelities, while Charlie Sheen recently lost Hanes because of his various publicized escapades," according to Starch.

However, celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres have brought positive attention via their endorsements. Starch specifically citied a CoverGirl and Olay print ad with DeGeneres in the March 2010 issue of House Beautiful that "generated a phenomenal 91% readership score, the highest scoring entertainment celebrity ad in the Starch analysis."

"So far, Wrangler and Snapper have stuck by Brett Favre after the NFL fined him $50,000 for failing to cooperate in an investigation into allegations of inappropriate text messages, but this is the kind of heartburn that most marketers can do without," said Kelly.  "Nonetheless, the risks are apparently worth taking."

Study: Super Bowl Celebrities Have Lost Their Sales Sizzle

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