Atom Pictures’ Creative Director, Bill Wilson, ponders if a celebrity endorsement can up the ante on sales.


Thank you EE, your 2016 TV ad has made the ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’ game a lot easier.

Those of you not familiar with this fine party game ….. the objective is to make a connection, from a celeb of your choice to Kevin through their joint performances in film or TV (e.g. connect Nicole Kidman to Kevin Bacon………. Kevin Bacon - a Few Good Men with Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut with Nicole Kidman). Granted, in the case of EE, it’s only Rachael Riley or Stephen Fry and I’m not 100% sure TV ads count anyway, but hopefully you catch my drift.  

 Since the dawn of TV commercials, advertisers have been using famous faces in the hope that their products will fly off the shelf. The more famous, the more sales, right?

Well actually …no ! According to recent research by Neuro-Insight UK ( commissioned by Advertising advocates “Thinkbox” ), celebrity involvement by itself makes absolutely no difference to sales.

Neuro-Insight, as the name might suggest, look for brain responses in different individuals when shown certain stimuli. In other words it sat a bunch of people down, strapped electrodes to their heads and monitored their reaction when they were shown 150 different commercials.

What they discovered is that ads featuring a celebrity did nothing to create the type of neural pathways that lead to purchases at a later stage. So, despite the agencies having some great names to drop over lunch at the Ivy, their advert may do nothing to shift products off the shelves in Tesco.

There is one notable exception…. sales took an upturn by as much as 18% if a celebrity delivered the ‘call to action’ (e.g call now for 50% discount). I’m sure the calibre of the celebrity also has some impact. Maybe H from Steps doesn’t has quite the pull he once did!

Make no mistake, celebrities, even the “D’ listers can be very pricey. So if you’re debating splashing out a small fortune on the likes of Kerry Katona, you might want to consider trading in the celebrity fees for additional airtime. Financial considerations aside, what about the impact on the creative treatment of those paparazzi worthy faces?

To me the answer is simple…… does their appearance project you further into the story? If so, it could be money well spent. An example of one such ad is Vinny Jones in the British Heart Foundation’s ‘Staying Alive’ campaign. Vinnie gets the mood right in a split second, doing much of the advert's heavy lifting, transporting you into his universe and making a whole world of difference to the viewer’s recall.

See it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILxjxfB4zNk

Well done Vinny, you were the right celebrity for the job! And you’re not alone. A more recent example is Harvey Keitel doing sterling work as pseudo mafia boss ‘Winston Wolf’ for Direct Line.


For me, the actors in these particular ads really add to the strength of the viewer engagement. Less successful are the ones that simple try to coast on the coat tales of fame, hoping that some of the popularity of the celeb will rub off onto the advertiser’s product. Let’s face it coffee drinking George Clooney, you could have been switched out for Tom or Brad and no one would have noticed!

A good creative is always better than a famous face and, on the other hand, a celebrity will never rescue a poor creative.

That said, the 2 sometimes come hand in hand and that’s when the magic of celebrity endorsement really happens.

So if you want to make sure your ad maxes out its potential, be sure the creative idea and celeb city performance work in synch. Otherwise, all your hard-earned profit will be wasted on your actor’s fees, sorting out purple M and Ms and Evian Baths. And that’s not doing any good for sales at all- unless, of course you’re Evian.

Atom Pictures is a boutique advertising and production agency drawing on 30 years experience and BAFTA nominated creative design.