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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

Leveraging Celebrities

I’m not surprised how often brands try to leverage celebrities and pop culture characters in their advertisements.

I’m surprised by how often they do it poorly.

LiftMaster is a good example of a company that recently did this well. They used one of the main characters from an iconic movie (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) as the basis for their humorous ad, but it made a lot of sense for them to do so: one of the film’s pivotal scenes happens in a garage... and LiftMaster makes garage-door openers.

Further, it’s actually plausible (even likely!) that an adult Cameron Frye would actually use the product being promoted to protect the car he spent “three years restoring” because he knows from experience what might happen otherwise.

The resulting spot is both creative and memorable, and because the product fits with the situation and plays a starring role in the commercial, it wouldn’t likely make fans of the film feel like the actor “sold out” by doing the ad.

But it’s not enough to simply take beloved characters from pop culture (or celebrities that portrayed said characters) and insert them into your commercials.

You need to consider whether the ad makes sense based on what we know about the character’s known situation, whether the product is something that could be naturally associated with the figure, and whether the pairing between the character and the brand is distinct and memorable.

Here are three examples from the past year that didn’t work nearly as well as the LiftMaster spot, and some thoughts around what the companies involved might have done better.

QuickBooks Happy Business: Karate Kid

Does anybody who watched the original Karate Kid film (or the subsequent Cobra Kai television series) believe John Kreese would have been a kinder, gentler, less “intense” Sensei if he had only had more control over his Cobra Kai business? Of course not. But an outrageous set-up and a lack of believability aren’t what’s wrong with this ad.

It’s a complete lack of differentiation.

Here’s part of the script from the ad: