I once worked at an agency where using famous people in advertising was so commonplace that I was able to find a celebrity ad for every single client we had (and it was a big agency).
Nothing wrong with that; after all, some of the best ads of all time have featured famous people:
But why do they work so well?
I imagine the obvious answer has occurred to you: the use of the celeb is like an endorsement from someone many people already like. Even though Peter Kay doesn’t drink a pint of John Smiths in the ad and Henry Kissinger doesn’t read a copy of The Economist, they both took the money, so we can assume they don’t hate the brand (would they have endorsed the Nazi party for the same fee? I think not). And that’s like a massive version of your best, most respectable, over-achieving mate telling you he likes a movie: it instantly becomes more attractive.
But there’s another reason why famous people work so well: ads that feature people have to get the characteristics of those people across in a very short space of time. It’s an almost impossible task, which why almost all ads without famous people in them fail to do just that. Instead you’ll watch a cipher, a cliché or a stereotype, because the ability to identify with a character, and thus get involved in their narrative, is dependent on knowing their motivations. Someone we ‘know’ because he’s a ‘rich banker’, ‘surly goth’ or a ‘family dad’ will be easier to follow than someone we’ve never seen before.
But a famous person? We know all about them: Peter Kay is a straight-talking northern comedian; Henry Kissinger is an intelligent international statesman; Carl Lewis was one of the greatest runners in the world; Stephen Fry is brainy and kind of patronising etc. I’m reducing those people to quick sentences, but we all have an idea of who they are, how they act and why motivates them, so when they are added to a narrative we don’t need minutes of backstory to identify with them.
Of course, the non-celeb character can be conveyed in the time it takes to create an ad, but that takes great skill:
Other 30s well-drawn characters: