Villing & Company

Identifying with Celebrity Endorser Key to Effective Campaign

In honor of the start of the NFL season this weekend, an unofficial national holiday in my view, we felt it appropriate to post to our website two TV spots we produced this summer on behalf of Purdue Employees Federal Credit Union (PEFCU) featuring Super Bowl MVP and Madden '11 cover boy, Drew Brees.

Beyond the buzz and excitement this unique opportunity presented the agency in the months leading up to our late June shoot, it also allowed me to reflect on the usage of celebrity spokespersons such as Brees in marketing campaigns and the likelihood of their success or failure in that role.

Such celebrity pitches are obviously widespread and have a long history dating back to the days of explorer Admiral Peary endorsing Eastman Kodak in the early 20th Century, through Joe DiMaggio's run as "Mr. Coffee" in the 1970s, and onto William Shatner becoming more recognizable for finding cheap airfares and hotel rates than for commanding the USS Enterprise.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I'd say that, regardless of how you feel about the ads, Shatner's intentionally buffoonish lead in the Priceline campaign has given them an awareness and name recognition that would be hard to replicate otherwise. On the other hand, I have a hard time understanding how the forced pairing of Shaquille O'Neal with Ben Stein enhances Comcast's marketing goals.

Then, sometimes you have the perfect storm. Such is the case with PEFCU and Brees. This is a partnership based on personal experience and a long-term relationship – which was forged when Brees, an unheralded and largely under-recruited Texas high school quarterback, came to Purdue University in the late 1990s to lead a very mediocre football team. When he left campus, however, he had taken Purdue to their first Rose Bowl appearance in over 30 years and became a true Boilermaker icon for doing so.

PEFCU wisely signed Brees as a spokesman when he moved on to the NFL's San Diego Chargers – never dreaming that their investment in him – through a career-threatening injury and time riding the bench – would steadily rise with his fortunes quarterbacking the New Orleans Saints since 2006. Brees' stock as an endorser climaxed as he stood on the field in Miami accepting the MVP Trophy for leading the Saints to victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.

Beyond his gridiron accomplishments is the fact that, at least publicly, Brees' off-field character has been equally as impressive – a rare combination to say the least in this day and age.

So, given the strength of his stature, how effective is Brees as an endorser of PEFCU? Does sheer popularity translate into being an effective pitchman? While this particular campaign is just getting started, I'd say he has, and will continue to be, an important element in the evolving PEFCU brand.

It's not just because his face is now nationally recognized, but rather because people in the greater Lafayette area can relate to him.

Brees not only lived in the area for four years but he continues to come back annually due to his role with local charities and association with PEFCU. Also, he truly connects with the target audience the Credit Union is trying to reach – Purdue students, staff and faculty. PEFCU members that, like Brees, may no longer live in the Lafayette area but continue their relationship with PEFCU regardless of where they relocate after graduation, due in large part to location-neutral banking products such as credit cards, checking accounts, mortgage and auto loans, etc.

That, I believe, is the key to any effective celebrity endorsement. Can I identify with this individual and the products or services he is pitching? To go back to the Shaq/Ben Stein example, that's a big 'no' for me in the Comcast ads. However, Shaq pitching Icy Hot muscle pain relief products (which he does) is much more credible.

Obviously, we are fortunate to work with Brees at the pinnacle of his popularity. He was a true professional in every regard during the shoot and delivered his lines better than most trained actors. Plus, with his average 6' height and lack of an entourage, he's perhaps easier to relate to than many celebrities in similar circumstances. In that sense, it's understandable why he is so popular in and out of football circles.

However, I think it's his ability to identify with his target audience – in this case, residents, students, and faculty of greater Lafayette, Indiana – that bodes well for his effectiveness as a spokesperson for PEFCU for years to come – at least to those who are not Colts fans.

Filed Under: advertising

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