Celebrity endorsements in advertising: All that glitters is not gold.

David Duchovny - Baume & Mercier Celebrity EndorsementWe love our celebrities, don’t we?

Christina Applegate takes motherhood … to celebrity status.

Zsa Zsa Gabor is a fabulous celebrity … and a panel of experts has been commissioned to find out why.

 His very existence … makes Prince William a celebrity.

Because the public goes so (Lady) gaga over celebrities, celebs have been used to hawk products and services for decades. Often, they can add pizzazz to what is otherwise a pretty routine advertising campaign. But how effective are the added glitz and glamour in ringing up additional sales?

I’ve long suspected that the value of celebrity endorsements might be over-hyped. Now we have some quantifiable proof. Ace Metrix, a California-based ad measurement firm, evaluated ~2,600 television ads shown during 2010. The company tested 263 unique national ads featuring celebrity endorsements, spanning 16 industries and 110 separate brands. All ads were tested within 48 hours of breaking nationally in order to capture immediate rather than “cultivated” ad effectiveness.

The celebrity ads were then evaluated against a control group of non-celeb ads in order to determine their comparative effectiveness in generating ad “lift” (better performance).

What the Ad Metrix analysis found was that only ~12% of the ads using celebrities showed more than 10% lift over average advertising norms in their respective industries. Even more startling, ~20% of the celebrity ads yielded 10% or worse (net negative) performance over the average advertising norms.

Here are some of the celebrities who had a “net negative” effect on their clients’ TV advertising effectiveness during 2010 – worst listed first:

Tiger Woods (Nike) – I guess this hardly comes as a surprise!
Lance Armstrong (Radio Shack)
Kenny Mayne (Gillette)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (Nationwide Auto Insurance)
Donald Trump (Macy’s)

Which celebrities managed to generate better-than-average scores? Queen of the heap is Oprah Winfrey for her 2010 spots for Liberty Mutual and Progressive Insurance. Ed Burns (iShares) and Carl Weathers (Bud Light) took the other top honors in positive lift.

Peter Daboll, head of Ace Metrix, had this to say about the findings: “This research proves unequivocally that, contrary to popular belief, the investment in a celebrity in TV advertising is rarely worthwhile. It is the advertising message that creates the connection to the viewer in areas such as relevance, information and attention, and this remains the most important driver of ad effectiveness.”

Interestingly, Oprah’s ads weren’t pitching products per se, but rather addressing current issue topics – in this case, warning against texting while driving. So one way to get through to the consumer via a celebrity is if the content is informational rather than a sales pitch.

But if the goal of the advertising is product sales, chances are the more the celebrity is truly “connected” to an advertiser’s product or service, the more successful he or she will be in engaging the target audience beyond simply the “curiosity factor.”

You can read detailed findings from the Ace Metrix analysis here.

Jack LaLanne at 95: Fit for the Ages

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger congratulates Jack LaLanne on his 95th birthday (September 2009).
Woods. McGwire. Vick. Harding. Rodriguez. In the world of sports and fitness, it seems that every other day someone is falling from grace. “Larger than life” seems inevitably to be followed by “all too human.”

But we have at least one sports hero who has forged a career refreshingly clear of controversy … and who has done so for nearly a century.

When Jack LaLanne opened the world’s first modern “fitness club” in Oakland, CA in 1935 at the age of 21, no one could have predicted that he’d still be a fixture in the world of sports some 75 years later.

“I can’t die. It would ruin my image!” he’s quoted as saying. But LaLanne certainly doesn’t have to worry about his image. At 95 years old, he remains one of America’s greatest proponents of health and fitness, communicating his message of exercise and good nutrition to all who will listen.

And unlike the hype surrounding so many other sports celebrities, LaLanne practices what he preaches: He works out at least two hours each day, concentrating on stretch and pull exercises plus swimming.

The story of Jack LaLanne was not always fitness and health, however. Like Charles Atlas, another bodybuilding and fitness pioneer, LaLanne hardly grew up as the picture of strength. But it was a teen-age encounter with nutrition pioneer Paul Bragg that inspired LaLanne to dramatically change his daily routine by joining the local YMCA in the San Francisco Bay area, becoming involved in bodybuilding and high school sports, and focusing on healthy eating.

It wasn’t long before LaLanne was experimenting with new weight training equipment of his own design, attracting a steady stream of policemen, firefighters and neighborhood toughs to his family’s backyard – which would lead to opening his first fitness center just a few years later.

The list of “firsts” in Jack LaLanne’s career in fitness is certainly impressive:

 The first host of a nationally syndicated television exercise show (1951).

 The first person to open a coed health club (eventually to become the 200-unit European Health Spa chain, later sold to Bally). At age 41, swimming the entire length of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge underwater, with 140 lbs. of equipment – a world record.

 At age 42, becoming the world-record holder for pushups (1,033 in 23 minutes).

 The first person to promote weight training for women and older adults.

 The first sports personality to endorse vitamins and exercise equipment on the TV airwaves.

(Coincidentally, LaLanne was also one of the first sports celebrities to warn against the dangers of smoking – long before medical science would come to the same conclusion.)

The Jack LaLanne Show would continue on television for 35 years. But the then 71-year-old host was certainly not ready to retire. Instead, he’s remained active as an author, spokesperson and motivational speaker on health and fitness in the 25 years since.

Moving easily between the world of sports and entertainment, Jack LaLanne has been awarded a lifetime achievement award from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports (1996) … along with getting his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2002). And at age 95, LaLanne isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. In fact, his eleventh book on fitness, Live Young Forever, was published just last year.

“Dying is easy. Living, you’ve got to work at,” LaLanne is fond of saying. By the looks of it, Jack LaLanne has certainly followed his own medicine – and it’s worked out beautifully for him.