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Does Cindy work?

THERE SHE WAS, IN ALL OF her exquisiteness, even including that signature mole.

Cindy Crawford, one of the original Supermodels, was gracing the page of a business/lifestyle magazine in an ad for Omega watches. Under the headline "Cindy Crawford's choice," she of hundreds of runways, covers and videos was photographed simply in black and white displaying Omega-on-wrist.

I thought: Maybe not a great implementation of celebrity endorsement.

You might reasonably inquire, "Jim, how could you possibly look at a photo of Cindy Crawford and think about marketing strategy?" Answer: This is what I do. It's my cross to bear.

Companies have used endorsers for decades, of course. In fact, the category of watches produced one of America's first uses of celebrity endorsement in advertising. Way back in 1870, the noted orator and minister Henry Ward Beecher appeared in a Harper's Weekly ad touting Waltham watches. Today, it's estimated that one in five network TV ads uses some form of celebrity endorsement.

In general, the marketing communication format for endorsements tends to fall into one of three categories:

* "You don't know me, but you know my friend." If your brand is new, unknown and/or mundane, then hitching it to a well-known person's star power may provide a mechanism to get the brand on consumers' radar screens. The downside is that those consumers tend to pay much more attention to your friend than to you.

* "You really like me." Likeability is a huge issue in advertising. On the national celebrity front, Marketing Evaluations Inc. has been developing and offering "Q Score" results for four decades; the Q Score is a measurement of likeability. Other ways of presenting likeable endorsers is to find individuals to whom customers feel they can relate--either actual customers in testimonials or a Leslie Basham type with a general, everyday appeal.

* "I know what I'm talking about." On occasion, the endorser is valuable because of his or her specific expertise. It is no coincidence that so many ads for over-the-counter medications, diet plans and the like have endorsers with lab coats. The thread of expertise may be quite thin yet still effective. The actor Ricardo Montalban, assumed to have an appreciation for luxury around the world, famously sold Chrysler cars with "fine Corinthian leather." (Remember, too, the line "I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV," spoken by a soap-opera actor in ads for Vicks Formula 44 cough syrup during the 1980s.)

Regardless of the marketing tactic used, for endorser effectiveness the ultimate criteria are attractiveness and trustworthiness. Those attributes assume different levels of importance to the consumer depending upon the type of purchase that is represented.

Low-cost, low-risk, familiar products and services are driven by the attractiveness criterion. The person deciding on, say, which chip to buy doesn't feel the need for consulting a chip expert (assuming such an expert even exists). Seeing Jay Leno crunch Doritos may be all that is needed to guide that type of purchase.

For higher-cost, higher-risk purchases, the attractiveness of an endorser is far less relevant than is trustworthiness. Financial planners, physicians, real estate professionals and the manufacturers of expensive goods need--if they choose to use endorsers--representatives who are perceived to have both objectivity and expertise.

Michael Jordan has been a great endorser for a number of different types of products because he brings a rare combination of likeability and expertise. (I still don't understand the Ball Park Franks deal, however. Are we to believe hot dogs were part of his training regimen?) Most endorsers can only get away with staking out one criterion or the other.

Given all this, you might finally inquire, "So wouldn't you want Cindy Crawford to be an endorser for your company if you could afford her?" Answer: Given Crawford's assumed expertise in beauty, health and vitality ... well, you bet your last lip mole I would.

Jim Karrh, PhD, is chief marketing officer of Mountain Valley Spring Co. E-mail him at
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Title Annotation:On Marketing
Author:Karrh, Jim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:May 22, 2006
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