By and  on December 22, 2000

NEW YORK -- It's celebrity madness.

An ever-growing core of famous faces surely sell magazines off the racks, but a lot of those same faces have infiltrated the ad pages as well, raising the question: Can they move the merch?

Actors, pop stars and even tennis stars routinely populate ads for cosmetics, cars and computers as well as the occasional fashion ad and they're viewed as an effective way to break through the proverbial clutter.

Aside from the occasional splash of a Madonna or a Gwyneth Paltrow, fashion firms in general haven't been quite as fully committed as the beauty crowd and this spring the flirt is on again with some of the more established models.

Nevertheless, the current celebrity crop is impressive, including Uma Thurman for Lancome; Venus and Sirena Williams for Avon; Venus Williams for Reebok; Jessica Simpson for Redken; Penelope Cruz for Ralph Lauren; Jeremy Irons and Milla Jovovich for Donna Karan; Jennifer Love Hewitt for Neutrogena; Sara Michelle Gellar for Maybelline; Helen Hunt for Sensa pens; Lucy Liu for Revlon, and Sarah Jessica Parker for Nutrisse, to name a few.

Sure, they draw attention to the brand, but is the cost of hiring them -- anywhere from $20,000 to $250,000 per ad, or millions for a multicampaign deal -- worth it?

Ad execs say it's hard to quantify because so many things factor into a consumer's purchasing decision, but they believe the right celebrity paired with the right product raises the awareness of the brand and can, in fact, result in increased sales.

Still, ad execs maintain that an editorial showing a celebrity in a particular dress, such as Jennifer Lopez wearing the green chiffon Donatella Versace dress to the Grammys, does more for a company than any paid advertisement featuring a star.

"I'm of the opinion that the right celebrity paired with the right product is definitely something worthwhile. It's when they react in that so-called 'sweet spot' that it really works best," said Richard Kirshenbaum, partner and creative director of Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners.

He cited the lucrative liaison between Michael Jordan and Nike as being especially effective. "Here you have a huge celebrity known for his athleticism paired with a huge athletic firm. In this case, one plus one equals a million. I think Madonna and Versace worked very well. She's a fashion icon. She had relevance to the brand. And Ralph Lauren featuring actress Penelope Cruz in his current campaign is a win-win situation. It's a great career move for Penelope Cruz because Ralph's the pinnacle of the fashion industry," said Kirshenbaum.

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