By  on February 4, 2009

Flash is out, substance is in.

Celebrity endorsers won’t go the way of dinosaurs in this recession-driven shakeout, but consumers are likely to be seeing more famous faces — with a heightened online presence — that convey a degree of seriousness, either through the projects they pursue, the charities they support or the lifestyles they lead.

“You’ve got celebrity names today that consumers love who aren’t over-the-top, flamboyant celebs,” said Gerry Philpott, chief executive officer of E-Poll Market Research, a celebrity research firm based in Los Angeles.

The public’s appetite for party girls such as Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie has waned, and interest in more down-to-earth types has increased. Philpott cited research showing heightened consumer interest in young mothers such as Jennifer Garner, and actresses who give the appearance of leading more low-key lifestyles, including Halle Berry, Reese Witherspoon and Jodie Foster.

“They’re more grounded; they set the tone,” he said. “It’s less decadence, more responsibility.”

That theme echoes President Obama’s inauguration speech and his subsequent statements about excesses on Wall Street.

“People don’t want fluff, they want real,” said Nathalie Moar, director of celebrity and branding at Marilyn Agency, which has offices in New York and Paris and places models and celebrities with fashion brands. “It’s because of the shift in the economy. It’s why Obama was elected. Everything is shifting in the way we communicate to audiences.”

Whatever the economic climate, from luxury names to mass brands, “it’s all about influence. Celebs will always drive fashion and interest in products or style,” Philpott said. “That’s always going to be the case. It’s just a matter of who. That’s what changes over time.”

The desire of consumers to identify with the down-to-earth types doesn’t mean some brands are shying away from edgy campaigns. In other words, moms can be hot.

Several spring-summer 2009 campaigns featuring celebrities speak to these points. Mothers such as Katie Holmes, Madonna and Victoria Beckham have been tapped for provocative ads for Miu Miu, Louis Vuitton and Emporio Armani, respectively. Models are out in force, too: Claudia Schiffer appears for Yves Saint Laurent and Dolce & Gabbana. And Kate Moss appears in the latest advertisements from Stella McCartney, Versace, Just Cavalli and accessories firm Longchamp.

“The belief that celebrities will no longer have any relevance in a down economy is silly and historically inaccurate,” said Robert Thompson, professor of media and pop culture at Syracuse University. “You don’t go from making $60,000 a year to $0 a year and not like Angelina Jolie anymore. Your time to engage in that interest may change, but the interest itself does not.”

“No one is ever uninterested in glamour — or glamorous people,” Thompson added.

In the beauty sector, the glamour and down-to-earth quotient is reflected in celebrities such as Diane Keaton (L’Oréal), Eva Longoria Parker (L’Oréal), Tim McGraw (Coty) and Drew Barrymore (Procter & Gamble/Cover Girl), all of whom have been matched with brands for their latest ad campaigns. And in September, Procter & Gamble announced the new face of Cover Girl and Olay Simply Ageless Foundation: Ellen DeGeneres. Ads began rolling out last month.

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