I’ve written in the past about the use of celebrities in tv ads and admitted that we did the same thing at Cellnet, which became O2, in using Joan Collins and John Cleese in two really great ads…and Nigel Mansell and Brian Clough in some pretty wooden ones. I was also in the marketing team at BT, though well-removed from the decision-making process, when it was agreed to use S Club 7 to front their use-the-phone-more ads. I still shudder at the memory whilst Bob Hoskins is probably still spinning in his grave. It would have been good to walk…away from that deal.
And possibly because of that hideous association, for many years the use of celebs in tv ads became not just passé but actively ridiculed. Except when Nespresso convinced George Clooney to promote their coffee acting in character as himself, which has been close to ridiculous. But in the last couple of years there’s been a bloody explosion of ads with celebs in them again and not just soap opera has-beens, we’re talking proper Hollywood A-listers – Kevin Bacon for EE, Harvey Keitel reprising his Winston Wolf character for Direct Line and even Al Pacino (Al fu**ing Pacino!!) for Sky Broadband.
More recently we’ve even seen Arnold Schwarzenegger fronting up for comparethemarket and Sylvester Stallone, as a Bolton delivery driver for Warburtons. The mind boggles… but how and why? What seems different now is that celebrities are not getting the same criticism they once did for lending their names to big brands – they are no longer selling out (though I’m bloody sure none of them do it for free). Rather they are joining in the fun and sending themselves up a bit.
But the ad has to be very good for this to work. I mean the Direct Line ads are grim, as I’ve said before. And Al Pacino looked like he’d eaten a whole side of ham before doing the Sky ads. I have to say that the Warburton ad probably works best at it sends up many of Sly’s classic films ie Rocky and Rambo. All he needed was a character name like Rollsy or Roti or Rye-boy to make it almost perfect.
But you can’t help wondering which really big star will be next to demonstrate their range of emotions from A to B on behalf of a cheeky brand. I could see Meryl Streep fronting up for HMRC imploring us to get our tax returns in before the end of Jan with the words ‘It’s not complicated’. Or Robert de Niro promoting Uber (think about it) or Cameron Diaz advertising cottage holidays with Airbnb or Robert Downey Jr telling us how much he likes using the Morphy Richards steam presser. Oh come on.
But hats off will go to the brand that gets the little toothy chappy Tom Cruise to promote their products. It’s not quite Mission: Impossible but I can’t see him leaving LA to come over to plug Michael Fish’s autobiography can you? Smirk