Study: Putting Celebrities In TV Ads Only Makes Them Worse

Do you buy Activia because Jamie Lee Curtis says you should? Or a Sony TV because Peyton Manning is their pitchman? What about that stash of Extenze you keep in the bedside table — did you purchase that on the recommendation of Jimmy Johnson? A new study shows that the answer to all these questions is probably a big “no.”

The study by Ace Metrix, looked at 263 unique nationally televised ads featuring celebrity endorsements from 2010. The ads represented 16 industries and 110 brands and all the ads were tested within 48 hours of their first national airing in an attempt to get an immediate, untainted reaction.

The ads were scored in eight different categories, including relevance, watchability, persuasion and desire. And in ever single category, the ads featuring celebrities fared worse than the non-celebrity control group of ads.

Writes Ace’s Peter Daboll on

[T]ime and time again we observed incredibly low effectiveness scores of TV ads starring celebrities. From Tiger Woods to Donald Trump, we found that with rare exception, celebrity endorsements were largely ineffective and failed to yield the benefits popular wisdom promises.

The five celebrity ads that fared the worst were:
1. Tiger Woods “Did You Learn Anything” spot for Nike
2. Lance Armstrong’s “No Emoticons” ad for Radio Shack
3. Kenny Mayne’s “Good Segment” ad for Gillette
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s “Coverage at the Right Price” spot for Nationwide Auto Insurance
5. Donald Trump’s “Making Timmy a Mogul” ad for Macy’s

Daboll says one of the most common problems people cited with celebrity ads was confusion about what was being sold. For example, the Lance Armstrong Radio Shack ad makes no mention of the electronics store outside of the branding on Lance’s cycling uniform and could be for just about any product.

Concludes Daboll:

The bottom line is that good ads stand on their own, and this study empirically shows that a celebrity has little to no impact on an ad’s effectiveness. In fact, regardless of gender or age, ads without celebrities out-performed ads with them…

Just because a celebrity is incredibly popular and achieves fabulous box-office returns and critical accolades does not mean they will provide a similar boon to brands in advertising.

While we’re on the topic of badvertising, remember that we’re already taking nominations for the next Worst Ad In America awards. So the next time you see an ad that makes you want to hurl your shoe at the TV, shoot us an e-mail at with “WAIA” in the subject line.

Celebrities in Advertising Are Almost Always a Big Waste of Money [AdAge]

Celebrity Advertisements: Exposing A Myth Of Advertising Effectiveness [Ace Metrix]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Azzizzi says:

    I believe it. Those ads with Michael Jordan for Hanes make Jordan look boring.

    • milkcake says:

      Actually, you just proved yourself wrong. You already associate Jordan with Hanes. The advertisement already has an effect on you, although you think the ad sucks. You remember Hanes because of the ad already. That means the ad apparently worked. Having a place in your mind (bad or good) is better than nothing (no consideration of any kind) to the advertisers.

      • redskull says:

        I may associate them with Jordan, but that doesn’t mean I’ll buy Hanes though.

        • milkcake says:

          True. But you’re just one data point. There are some that would buy (most of them would not). Seriously, there are 1000s of ads you watched and for most of them you didn’t buy whether there were celebrities in the ads or not. Maybe 5% of all the viewers? I wouldn’t know unless I do the analysis.

      • Rectilinear Propagation says:

        Actually, you just proved yourself wrong. You already associate Jordan with Hanes.

        That doesn’t mean the ad isn’t boring. How did Azzizzi prove themself wrong?

  2. DJSeanMac says:

    Someone please remind Hollywood this goes for movies, too. While a bad script can often be saved by an amazing cast, a good script can be ruined by casting for looks or a “name” instead of talent.

  3. therealchriss says:

    I definitely purchased Gatorade and Nike stuff because of Michael Jordan.

  4. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    The best “celebrity” commercials are ones in which the celebrities aren’t physically in the commercials. Morgan Freeman has one of the most recognizable voices in the world, and when you hear his voice in a commercial, you pay attention because you know it’s Morgan Freeman. Why did James Earl Jones did such a great job to draw in people to the Yellow Page commercials? because he has a recognizable and iconic voice. Who the heck would remember Ford commercials if it weren’t for the fact that Kiefer Sutherland did the voiceover?

  5. milkcake says:

    Okay, I actually measure effectiveness of advertisements as a job. These guys are just measuring the immediate impact on how the users actually feel about the ads and therefore the products. Saying that celebrities make the ads worse because it confuses the viewers is pretty ignorant. That really depends on whether the ad was doing product advertising, or just brand advertising. Brand advertising doesn’t make you go out and buy stuff out the door. It’s just creating awareness of the brand. When you couple branding with retail advertising (hopefully showing retail advertising later once the awareness has set in) then you get the maximum benefit of retail advertising. From what I read in this article, many of these celebrities are featured in brand advertising. Thus, you don’t get that immediate feel of what product you should be buying. The viewers just remember the store name, like “Radio Shack”. So that’s perfectly fine. It’s a well done commercial if it accomplishes that. Once Radio Shack runs retail advertising like “10% off on all electronics”, people are more prone to respond that ad. I really don’t think this study really proves anything. It does add some value to how people respond to ads though (immediate effect), and you can rank that ad. This is only good for retail advertising evaluation.

    • neilb says:

      Ha. I did the same thing, professionally, for a bit over a year and I had the same thoughts.
      Though these ads might not yield a short-term impact on sales, they might form a longer-term positive association between a celebrity and a brand…you know, 50-year, Coke-polarbear kind of association.
      Given how much we see these celebrities, I can see a potential for an association to increase sales in the long term. (Polar bears make me crave Coke, Lance reminds me that I need to buy batteries/adapters/robot that eats coins.)

      In terms of immediate impact…yeah, a bad/confusing ad is not likely to have an immediate impact.
      Also, it is nice to see studies like this, but it doesn’t stack up to seeing real sales and advertising data in terms of displaying the frightening relationship between advertising and behavior, does it?

      I walked away from that job with the idea that people to understand that ads REALLY do affect their own behavior. Instead, this article does the opposite by presenting the cases where ads might be weak.

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      Saying that celebrities make the ads worse because it confuses the viewers is pretty ignorant.

      They didn’t say that the celebrity being in the ad caused the confusion.

  6. The Upright Man says:

    Maybe they should start using viral stars like Antoine Dodson….

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      My favorite ad campaign to date is still the Old Spice campaign. Isaiah Mustafa was so hilarious and those commercials were pure genius.

      • courtarro says:

        Agreed – but he wasn’t a celebrity before the ad … thus providing more evidence to corroborate the article’s claim.

        I’m not a big fan of advertising; I don’t like to be told what to buy or do. But when ads are as entertaining as the ones Old Spice produced in that campaign, I’ll go buy their products just to say thanks.

    • nealbscott says:

      That worked for Pomplamoose.

  7. c!tizen says:

    HEY!… stay the hell out of my bedside table.

  8. MB17 says:

    I feel shame for taking this long to understand the “Jimmy Johnson” Extenze pun.

  9. Radiating says:

    I’ve actually purchased several products because the celebrity lended enough credibility to the ad to make me think twice about buying it. I would have not even considered the products if not for the celebrity.

  10. Erich says:

    The best part of Jimmy Johnson’s Extenze commercials is all the references on The Soup.

  11. Portlandia says:

    Tell this to the guy with the Kardashian card! Sounds like this study just squashed his claim.

  12. packy says:

    I have to cite one ad which I think is the rare exception Daboll is talking about. The Snickers ad which features the immortal exchange: “Mike! You’re playing like Betty White out there!” “That’s not what your girlfriend said!”

    • packy says:

      Ha. Downloaded and started reading the white paper from Ace Metrix. On the first page:

      “Clever and creative use of celebrities in advertisements can be effective given the right context.
      We have seen this with Troy Polamalu for Head & Shoulders, Betty White and Aretha Franklin for
      Snickers, among others, however it is important to keep in mind that if viewers are confused or do
      not understand the connection between the celebrity and the product, receptivity to the ad can be

  13. Blueskylaw says:

    I bought a Buick because Tiger Woods “drives” one.

    /Just kidding

  14. sugarplum says:

    I like anything Patrick Stewart does. I do what Picard tells me to! :/

  15. Virginia Consumer says:

    I don’t know if it’s something subliminal, but my wife and I both love the Geico commercials like the squealing pig and the Allstate ones with the guy named Mayem.

    On the other hand, when I went to do this post I didn’t know it was Allstate with the Mayem guy. So it may not be that effective.

    Oh, and the State Farm ones where they wish for things and they come true. My favorite is the one where the girl asks for a better guy then he does the same.

  16. tbax929 says:

    I don’t watch a lot of commercials, but there’s a Troy Polamalu one for Head & Shoulders in which his hair gets bigger and bigger; I love that commercial.

    …not enough to buy Head & Shoulders, but it’s a great commercial.

  17. Red Cat Linux says:

    Celebrities get the attention of the viewer in a tight time frame. Unless a commercial does something to get your attention, you are off to make more popcorn, to the potty, surf to the next channel, or hitting ffwd on the Tivo.

    I don’t ever think, Oh I’ll buy this because so and so says they like it. But if I was in the market for underwear which didn’t have tags in it, I’d remember the Jordan Hanes commercials. If the commercials miss the mark, however, it can be a waste. I remember Jonathan Pryce did early Infinity commercials, but while I enjoy him in movies, the commercials (before they finally let you in on the secret – it’s a car!) were the annoyingly vague kind that were a turn off.

  18. theSuperman says:

    I like Kevin Bacon in the Logitech Revue commercials.

  19. blinky says:

    How about that racing chick who fronts for GoDaddy?

    • Reading_Comprehension says:

      Danica Patrick. I’ve never watched those “online only” videos they allude to. Has anyone? Does she get naked or get down with other female celebrities as it is oft suggested?

  20. SonarTech52 says:

    I think sometimes a commercial can have too much star power or maybe too entertaining (or maybe not enough product reference) to where I know the commercial, but have no clue what it was selling..

  21. aweirdguy says:

    “the next time you see an ad that makes you want to hurl your shoe at the TV”

    I’m pissed off that I can’t throw shoes at my tv anymore. It’s too dang fragile! When are they going to make flat hdtvs with a sturdy enough screen so I can throw shoes and wiimotes at it? Remember the old thick glass screens you could whip a nes controller at without planning a trip back to the tv store?

  22. Reading_Comprehension says:

    how are celebrities supposed to make their money now?

  23. redskull says:

    I’ve never been swayed to buy a product because of a celebrity endorsement. I figure a celebrity spokesman is an actor, so what’s to keep them from acting like they like the product or that it’s any good?

  24. Brink006 says:

    I will buy anything that Blake Griffin tells me to buy, because he is more than just a player. More than the ‘next big thing’ in the NBA. He is hope.

  25. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    I agree… Celebrity endorsement works against a product…

  26. cornstalker says:

    I once saw a picture of Michael Jordan on a pack of AA batteries in a check-out aisle. I can’t even remember if they were Duracell or Energizer, all I could think was, “What the hell does Michael Jordan have to do with batteries?”

    • nybiker says:

      Bingo. That’s my exact reaction with virtually any ‘celebrity’ I see. Before Tiger had his current set of problems, my thoughts were, “where is the golf connection to the ad?” Of course, the car maker also does play the naming rights game as IIRC there is an ‘open’ to which their name is attached. But still, what is it about being a golf player that makes one a car shiller?

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      For a while Michael Jordan did ads for rechargeable batteries with the whole “better for the planet” thing.

  27. nybiker says:

    I don’t need any study to tell me that. I remember the ads only so I can remember what products to NOT buy. Even if it was just a ‘branding’ ad, I don’t buy the products the brand sells.
    What’s a celebrity though? The old spice ads are a case in point. Was the guy a celebrity before the ad? If so, I had no idea (still don’t). In my mind, he became well-known as a result of the ads. I’m still not buying old spice, but it’s not because of the ads or the actor in them.

    As for the 5 in the list, I have no clue as to who Kenny Mayne is. But I don’t buy Gillette stuff due to their naming rights deal. The other 4 are shilling for stuff that has nothing to do with their alleged claim to fame. Like TW is an expert in cars. Or LA knows jack about electronics (it is debatable these days whether or not RS knows about ’em as well). But the problem is that the companies think that we will be influenced by these celebrity endorsements (or branding) and buy their stuff. And it’s that thinking that turns me off to their products. I like to think I buy most stuff on their merits not because john q. celebrity tells me what a great razor this is.
    /begin rant
    The problem is rampant with naming rights as well. Don’t buy stuff from corporate johns and maybe every news story won’t read like a press release.
    /end rant

  28. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    i used to really like and respect jamie lee curtis. writing kids books, philanthropy… activia commercials wipe all of that out of my mind when i see them and i just think ‘ick’

  29. Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

    Come to think of it, Peyton Manning is the reason I WON’T by a Sony.

    Or any of the other 1,234,567 (and counting) products he promotes.

  30. PossibleCabbage says:

    Kenny Mayne is a celebrity? I thought he was just “the funny guy on Sportscenter.”

  31. HogwartsProfessor says:

    My first thought: don’t listen to celebrities. Case in point, Jenny McCarthy.

    I just figure the actor / celebrity needs the money. Why else would they do the ad? That’s their job. I doubt they even care about whatever they’re hawking, or even use it. I will sometimes check out charities or humanitarian organizations they publicize, on my own, to see if it’s something I want to get involved in.

    I did see a milk commercial last night with Susan Sarandon in it. I drink a TON of milk and that is kind of a health thing anyway (“Drink milk, it’s good for you, blah blah”) and not a specific brand or product. So that’s okay. But if I weren’t a milk drinker, I wouldn’t buy it just because SHE said so, even though I think she’s awesome.

  32. ohiomensch says:

    What… “what should I do? ” LeD-bag James commercial didn’t make the list?

    • Brink006 says:

      That ad was effective in starting to heal the damage done from The Decision. You’re either a fool or live in Cleveland.

  33. cash_da_pibble says:

    You remember the Burger King ads with Tony Stewart?

    That was a wonderful use of a celebrity in an ad series.
    Plot:Tony Stewart loves the Whopper and heartily endorses it every chance he can.

    One of the commercials in the series also perfectly addressed the point of this article.
    Celebrities can’t just mash their likeness on an item and expect to cash out.

  34. Rachacha says:

    What about ads where the commercial makes the actors a celebrity (Justin Long and John Hodgman) for the Apple Switcher ads (yes, I know that both actors had some celebrity status before the ads, but they were not at the level of a Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods.

    While the ads may not have had an immediate impact on sales, they did help to create or enhance certain misconceptions about Windows computers and caused many people to consider purchasing a Mac (although I suspect that the higher price of a Mac turned away a large number of consumers)

  35. davidsco says:

    Here’s a tip: I buy NOTHING based on Advertising. The only advertising that is effective, for me, is that that informs me of a product or service that I was previously unaware of, after that, it becomes LESS and LESS effective the more I see it. In fact, there are certain businesses and products I will not patronize simply because I can’t stand their marketing, or there insistence on bludgeoning me to death with it. Marketing is lower than Lawyer or Insurance salesman on the totem pole. A Marketer is nothing more than a glorified lying salesman. However, as we’ve seen time and time again, companies will continue to pour their money into marketing because A. They’re lazy, and B. unfortunately, it works on equally lazy consumers

  36. EverCynicalTHX says:

    I was livid when I read what the US postal service was paying Armstrong for an endorsement..what a waste of money. I’m going to mail my letters through the post office instead of McDaddy Fly’s mailservice cause I like Lance…right!

  37. JohnJ says:

    Speaking of commercial effectiveness, is e-trade a diaper company?

  38. yessongs says:

    I would never buy something just because some “celebrity” endorses it. Do these people really use the product or do they just get paid to sell the junk? I could care less about actors and sports figures, they bare no importance in my life.

  39. shthar says:

    But movie characters in commercials help you know which movies will be gawd awful.

  40. gman863 says:

    Speaking of horrible celeberity ads: Hulk Hogan and Troy Aikman pitching Rent-A-Center.

    As washed up as these two are, they must have been recruited as Rent-A-Center customers.

    Please follow my lead and give this one an e-mail nod for Worst Ad In America.

  41. djshinyo says:

    Truth be told, the only thing I bought regularly with influence from tv was Sprite (remember when all those rappers formed Voltron? Oh man..)

    Jordan also probably made me love Nike and such things, but my mom didn’t keep us decked out in the swoosh like other kids.

  42. Press1forDialTone says:

    I eat Activia because it make me hot thinking that
    Jamie Lee Curtis has an unbalanced colon.

  43. IGNORE says:

    I don’t see why anyone should believe a celeb who will say what the sponser pays them to say. I would more likely believe an unpaid man on the street ad.


  44. courtarro says:

    Celebrities who aren’t actors are often really bad at acting. Case in point for Atlanta fans: Matt “Have you seen a shirt?” Ryan on the AirTran ads. It’s like they only had money for one take…

  45. isileth says:

    I may like a celebrity, but if I don’t care for the products, not even Hugh Jackman naked can make me buy Pepsi (that I don’t like).
    On the other hand, it happened that a song that I liked was used so much for ads, that I started to hate it.

    • katarzyna says:

      If Pepsi managed to get Hugh Jackson naked in a commercial, I would buy Pepsi products and give them away, just out of gratitude.

  46. italianbaby says:

    i wouldn’t run out and buy a product just because a celebrity endorses it.
    i’ll buy a product after i do my own internet research on it, like electronics.
    i don’t need a celebrity to tell me to buy a specific tv, or eat a specific product. just knowing he or she just got paid zillions of dollars to tell me so, makes me not want to buy it even more.
    have you noticed a lot of has been celebrities hawking life insurance, reverse mortgages etc. lately.
    i have a brain and i use it.

  47. haggis for the soul says:

    It all depends. If Tom Cruise were hawking it, I wouldn’t buy water if I were dying of thirst, but I’d pretty much want to buy anything Ellen Degeneris put up for sale.

  48. Snaptastic says:

    Those “Light and Fit” commercials with Heidi Klum rub me the wrong way. Even with coupons, I refused to buy the yogurt because of those commercials.

    The plus side is that it gives Yoplait’s YoPlus line more business (with the $1.00 coupons those are a great deal and taste awesome!).

  49. EverCynicalTHX says:

    The numbers finally come out..yep, that’s 31 MILLION for Lance Armstrong and team to remind you to use the US postal service when mailing letters..see story below:

    The U.S Postal Service spent $31.9 million to underwrite Lance Armstrong’s pro cycling team during its glory years of 2001 to 2004, approximately 60 to 65 percent of the team’s total budget, according to documents newly obtained from the agency under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

    The materials provide the first clear look at how heavily the agency invested in Armstrong and reveal the exact dollar amounts at issue should Armstrong and former team officials be charged with fraudulent use of government funds at the conclusion of an ongoing federal investigation.

    Until now, the USPS has gone to great lengths to keep the precise amount it spent on Armstrong a secret. In 2003, the agency’s Office of the Inspector General issued an audit report that was highly critical of the deal but blacked-out specific sponsorship amounts.

    As recently as last summer, when a federal grand jury in Los Angeles began hearing testimony from ex-members of Armstrong’s team, Postal Service officials continued to be tight-lipped about their sponsorship, responding to a Freedom of Information Act request by The File with heavily redacted documents.

  50. RHoltslander says:

    This makes sense to me actually. If you put a famous celebrity into an ad then their brand will be competing with your brand. People are delighted to see their favourite celebrity in an ad because they get to see the object of their adoration and yet be indifferent, at best, to the product being shilled.