Celebrity Super Bowl ads: what’s in it for your brand?

David Harbour and Isaiah Mustafa pitch Tide while riding a white horse

David Harbour and Isaiah Mustafa pitch Tide while riding a white horse

There were plenty of eye-popping fireworks during this year’s Super Bowl in terms of both offense on the field and the amount of high-profile celebrity helmed ads.

While it was all good for the NFL’s brand, was it good for the brands that spent $5 million for a 30-second spot?

It’s an age-old debate albeit with fresh relevance. Given the power of social and two-screen viewing habits, what is the true value of Keanu Reeves on a motorcycle or Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman in a lip-sync rap battle?

This year, brands felt it was a huge advantage, especially given the tense political climate that exists. In many ways, it felt that marketers wanted to play it safe and just be fun and entertaining for the Super Bowl’s 111 million viewers.

Morgan Freeman for Mountain Dew
Morgan Freeman for Mountain Dew

After all, celebrities are relatable, familiar and accessible. They are people your customers identify with and offer an immediate connection. When they go right, these endorsements can be powerful.

The celebrity tactic creates borrowed equity, a well-known concept that marketers leverage to shift or reinforce customers’ perceptions. The issue is while this may work for the short-term (especially amid a flurry of chicken wings, chugging beer and cheering), in the long run, the equity belongs to the celebrity.

It’s also safe to say that relying on a single person for such heavy marketing influence power doesn’t come without risk. Celebrities are human, and as humans, they make mistakes. Outside of the endorsement contract, a brand has little to no control over what that celebrity does on his or her off-time. Historically this has led to some spectacular celebrity endorsement failures including Lance Armstrong, Chris Brown and Tiger Woods, to name a few.

Bad behavior on a celebrity’s part could spell trouble for a brand. A failure means that businesses must dedicate significant resources to do damage control – on top of the hefty investment on the celebrity endorsement.

Peter Dinklage for Doritos
Peter Dinklage for Doritos

Still, it’s hard to argue with the results when it goes right. Amazon’s star-studded Alexa spot won the USA Today Admeter poll. And, Adweek gave the crown to Tide which riffed off of famous ads and starred the likeable sheriff from the Netflix series Stranger Things.

To me, what makes these ads work is that, yes, they are borrowed equity but ultimately they tie back to the brand promise.

Despite the star power, Alexa was still the star of the ad. What’s more, what Alexa does so well was put front and center.

The same holds true for Tide. Whether anyone knows who David Harbour is, they do know that Tide gets clothes clean.

This makes those two winning campaigns less of a stunt to draw people’s attention away from the bean dip and more of a true brand building exercise.

The most important aspect of any ad is an emotional, humanly relevant connection. Celebrities can help achieve that because of the familiarity and comfort level that exists.

If there is a natural strategic tie back to the brand’s core, the borrowed equity from a celebrity can be worth the risk. If not, you’ve just made a wealthy star even wealthier and at the same time put your brand at risk. Choose wisely! Sort of like when the Eagles decided to throw the ball to Nick Foles on the fourth down…

About the Author:
For nearly 20 years, gyro ECD Doug Kamp has held a strong and simple belief, that ideas are greater than any one media or discipline. From Chicago to New York, London to Shanghai, the fruits of Doug’s labor can be seen across the entire gyro network in work for accounts such as Aflac, Grant Thornton, Aon, Kimberly-Clark, USG, and John Deere.