One oft debated tactic used in advertising is the celebrity endorsement. It's been proven that in many cases, the positive affect and personality of a celebrity can rub off on a brand from an endorsement and can actually help create brand preference in largely undifferentiated categories. However, choosing the right celebrity is a delicate art, and badly chosen endorsement can go beyond ineffectiveness to become a liability.
One recent misstep appears to be HP's use of Seinfeld in their new spots. Barbara Lippert from Adweek and I seem to be of the same opinion on this one. I know, I know, lots of people like Seinfeld, but let's take a look at the company's position and goals and see if the once sitcom star accomplishes those goals. HP's recently lost ground to Apple, who paints HP as old, stodgy and unhip. If HP is trying to say, "We're hip, we're with it, we know what's going on today," then why on earth would they select a comedian for more than a decade ago? Seinfeld hasn't been the "it" guy for years and if you're trying to reach today's college students, many of whom were born as late as 1990, you're not going to convince them you know what's up today by using a celebrity that's a favorite of their parents' generation.
It reminds me of a project I worked on once. We were tasked with trying to reach junior high students with deeply technical and dull information. We also though comedy would help out, but my older colleague and I disagreed on who our "funny man" should be. I argued for Seth Rogen, who at that time was just coming onto the scene as a serious actor, and was enjoying huge sales at the box office from our target demographic. He was also a young, single, somewhat goofy guy that would have been easy for junior high students to relate to. However, my colleague argued for Chevy Chase, supposedly the quintessential funny man we couldn't live without. I know Chevy Chase was that man for quite some time because my parents and superiors have told me so, but his hay day was in the 1980s, before any of our target was even born. As a male in my mid-20s, I was only marginally aware of his work. What are the chances kids 10 years my junior would see him as anything but a 67-year-old comedian of yesteryear?
In short, be careful with your celebrity endorsement choices. They seem to be used quite a bit to try and dispel perceptions of being old or unhip, but it also seems the celebrities chosen for those important strategic missions are all too often proof that the companies are just as old and "not with it" as they're purported to be. If you need a spokesperson who's cool and hip, try asking your interns or junior staff. They're more likely to give you someone that resonates with your target instead of their parents.