Tis the season... The perfume campaigns are all crawling out of the oud-scented woodwork and a fresh cohort of celebrity faces are pouting and posing for all they’re worth.
Why? The gloss is seductive, and celebrity sells. It had better, for the money it costs to get a celebrity to front your campaign. Dior reputedly signed Johnny Depp on a three-year deal for $20 million, even after his bruising court cases. But, to steal another celebrity-fronted campaign strapline, is it worth it?
The gloss is seductive, and celebrity sells. But, to steal another celebrity-fronted campaign strapline, is it worth it?
For Dior, without it having to do any more than show the ads, Depp’s fanbase and recent publicity and notoriety arguably work in its favour. But there’s evidence that a celebrity’s face alone isn’t enough to secure long-term brand recognition and loyalty, something you should really want if you’re going to lay out tens of millions of dollars securing them, and the most recent celebrity-heavy Super Bowl ad slots largely underwhelmed, suggesting ‘celebrity fatigue’.
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Above: Johnny Depp in one of his campaigns for Dior.
All too often, we see brands pumping the same creative over-and-over again. Why? Well, the answer is sometimes simple; all the budget was spent on one celebrity and their time. So, consumers end up seeing the same ad over and over again, from Christmas through to summer.
This isn’t just dull, it’s detrimental to brand-strength. The fact is, people simply stop ‘seeing’ the ads. The tag lines run dry and, instead of being memorable, they become annoying, with consumers disengaging. Instead, with the right creative strategy and storytelling, brands can use that budget to build a narrative around the product, using reputable talent and different creative executions, leading to a much smarter use of the budget.
Are celebrities now irrelevant?
Are celebrities now irrelevant? Not at all. George Clooney still shifts Nespresso, a campaign that has been going strong (with the odd variation) for nearly two decades. But the reason for its success is not just Clooney’s pretty face. He brings much more to the brand, and it’s a model that should be expanded on if celebrity collaborations are to justify their gigantic price tag.
Clooney is all about charisma. It’s somewhat ironic that so many actor-fronted campaigns fail to capitalise on the one thing that made them famous in the first place; acting. The line between Clooney the man, and Clooney the con artist in the Oceans series, or as gentleman robber in Out of Sight, is blurred, lending a unique je ne sais quoi that the average spokesmodel couldn’t replicate.
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- Agency McCann/Paris
- Production Company Untitled/USA
- Director Grant Heslov
- Ad Agency Hogarth Worldwide/London
- Soundtrack Capitaine Plouf
- Executive Producer Geoff Campbell
- DP Martin Ruhe
- Talent George Clooney
Above: George Clooney still brings a lot to the Nespresso brand, and it's not just his good looks.
But not everyone has a Clooney to press into action. What celeb-fronted campaigns need to look for is meat, meaning and more authenticity. Where is the story behind the superstar? For a recent Tiffany&Co. campaign we used a mix of well- and less well-known actors, but figures that would have meaning to their followers as well as the opportunity for Tiffany to partner with them as they develop their careers. Two, in particular, brought a rich seam of interest to the collaboration.
What celeb-fronted campaigns need to look for is meat, meaning and more authenticity.
White Lotus, the ‘Succession in the sun’ hit of the summer launched two Italian actors, Simona Tobasco and Beatrice Granno, into the spotlight. They play two best friends trying to make a better life for themselves. But, the women are best friends in real life, having grown up together.
The Tiffany collaboration leant heavily on their off-screen chemistry and history, bringing so much more depth to the campaign. And, for some parts of the campaign, we turned the camera off. Part of the story was communicated through the women’s voice notes to each other. An easy, engaging conversation between friends that spoke of warmth and authenticity.
Of course, we had amazing, traditional campaign shots that look exactly as they’re supposed to and champion the jewellery which were seen in every magazine and landmark billboard - even on the side of a famous Milanese church. But we also had elements that were rawer. Those voice notes, pictures from their childhood together, all combined into a sort of scrapbook that became their story. An actual story.
Above: The Tiffany&Co campaign which featured White Lotus stars Simona Tobasco and Beatrice Granno leant heavily on their off-screen chemistry and history, bringing more depth to the campaign.
Spending time and getting to know the people you’re investing in, so you can tune into that individual and get a sense of how they want to work with the brand, in a way that isn’t purely transactional, is key. It also makes the shoot far more enjoyable for everyone. They have to have the sense that they want to represent a brand because it embodies what they do as a person, as well as how the brand itself is perceived.
It can also protect you against some of the more unfortunate consequences of hiring celebs to front your campaign. I am, of course, talking cancel culture. Take the time to get to know your celebrity and their motivations, their morals even. Red flags can be spotted if you know where to look. That’s what matters when you’re building campaigns in more depth and over the long term.
Celebrity-fronted commercials are certainly not dead. But the lazy approach to them may well be.
Of course, some brands, like Diesel for example, make a point of living on the edge, with notoriety and a whiff of danger only reinforcing their position. But, for many, particularly those with long heritages to protect (and shareholders to please) a degree of confidence in the future stability of high-profile partnerships is to be welcomed.
In this age of influencers and man- or woman-on-the-street campaigns, celebrity-fronted commercials are certainly not dead. But the lazy approach to them may well be. Big budgets aren’t the answer, you need that ‘money can’t buy’ access and authenticity.
Get behind that pretty face and see what lies beneath.