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The Star Pitch: Does it Work?

NEW YORK -- It's celebrity madness.<BR><BR>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?<BR><BR>Actors, pop...

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.

Some critics argue that there’s an oversaturation of celebrities.

“It’s so all over the place. I don’t find it as compelling as I once did,” said Charles DeCaro, partner in Laspata/DeCaro, an ad agency here. “The public is smart enough to realize that people are being paid to endorse the product. Models are paid the same thing, but it’s the model’s job. It adds another level of unbelievability+The models still work their magic. They know how to sell a product and know to be in front of a camera.”

“So often, people say, ‘I need a personality,’ and it’s without an idea, or substance,” said Ellis Verdi, president of DeVito/Verdi, an ad agency here. “The idea is to spend a lot of money. Essentially the personality is the focus, and it may detract from the brand. What it does is it may give instant awareness, but it doesn’t help in the depth of the sale of the brand.”

“I believe that when the actual celebrity is cool and popular and they’d actually wear the clothes, it’s an amazing endorsement and extraordinarily powerful,” observed Mike Toth, president of Toth Brand Imaging. “However, where it looks as if they’d never be caught dead in the clothes, it’s not good for the brand or the celebrity. It’s selling out.”

“There’s a very fine line between commercialism and artistry and it needs to be respected. When people are seen endorsing something in an ad, there’s a tendency to take them down a notch. When they have a personal relationship, it feels real. I think the reader is para-sympathetic.”

Among those celebrity campaigns he’s admired over the years are John Malkovich for Prada; Madonna for Versace; and Demi Moore and Bruce Willis for Donna Karan.

Toth noted that celebrities charge anywhere from $20,000 to $250,000 to appear in an ad campaign. A lot of celebrities, he said, are particularly receptive to appearing in Asian ads because, not only are they paid a lot of money there, there’s often a stipulation that the ads can’t be shown in the U.S. He’s seen Brad Pitt, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Meg Ryan in Asian campaigns. And ads featuring Cindy Crawford hawking Moulinex irons, Catherine Zeta-Jones promoting Alfa Romeo cars, and Harrison Ford selling Lancia cars are currently running in Europe.

“I definitely think celebrities work. It’s basically a recognition factor companies count on, and people relating to these people to foster warm feelings toward their brand,” said Doug Lloyd, owner of Lloyd & Co., an ad agency here.

Lloyd has used celebrities such as Julianne Moore and Candace Bergen in Coach ads. “It definitely helped build the brand. We did a mix of edgy, groovy and more older and established celebrities. We had a broader reach and used different magazines to target it to different audiences.”

Lloyd cited a few campaigns that have successfully featured celebrities such as the Gap [“Icons of Style”], American Express and the Milk campaign. And he said a few fashion firms have used it well too. “Over the years, Versace has done it sporadically. The thing about using it in fashion is it offers a twist to what people are used to seeing, and it makes people notice it even more,” he said.

One caveat is that when advertisers use celebrities, they always run into the challenge of actually putting clothes on them, and they may not look as appealing as a 16-year-old model. “At the end of the day, people want it to look appealing and they’re evaluating the clothes,” said Lloyd.

As for whether he’d ever consider hiring celebrities for his Gucci account, Lloyd said, “We’ve batted it around in the past. Since it has such a large celebrity following, it’s hard to single out which celebrity to use, without alienating others.”

Beauty companies have been extremely aggressive in signing up stars.

Lancome U.S.A. spent two years fishing around for a new face to represent the company. Last June, it signed Uma Thurman to a two-year renewable contract to be the face of global advertising.

“The hiring of Uma Thurman was a significant step for Lancome. She’s an internationally recognized face and the first American to represent Lancome in 65 years,” said Luc Nadeau, president of Lancome U.S.A.

Thurman is joining a glamorous group of Lancome faces: Juliette Binoche, Marie Gillain, Cristiana Reali and Ines Sastre. As a group, they collectively replaced Lancome’s longtime face, Isabella Rossellini.

Nadeau said they chose Thurman because she’s a mother, wife and well-known actress, and she fell into the company’s age target. “Lancome is really a brand for the 25-plus group. She’s really perfect,” he said.

Thurman’s initial campaign for the Miracle fragrance was launched in Europe this fall and is slated for a U.S. spring debut. Thurman will appear in both print and TV ads. The Miracle fragrance expects to generate $80 million in U.S. sales in the first year, and is projected to reach three times that worldwide. He noted that Juliette Binoche has worked out very well for the Poeme fragrance.

Another famous face, pop singer Jessica Simpson, has signed on with Redken to be its official spokeswoman in all advertising and media campaigns next year, as reported. The 20-year-old star is expected to reach the teen market, as well as Redken’s key demographic of 18-45-year-old women. The hiring of Simpson represents the company’s first spokeswomen in its 40-year-history.

“We had to choose someone who would represent the brand well,” said Shelley Saville, Redken’s senior vice president of U.S. marketing. “Jessica fits that image, and she also has moral ethics and values she is not afraid to stand up for,” referring to her well-publicized chastity.

For Parfums Chanel’s Allure fragrance ads that broke earlier this year, the company chose neither celebrities nor professional models. Instead, it asked six working women, including a London-based sculptor, a New York-based concert violinist and a few French journalists, to pose for the campaign shot by Patrick Demarchelier. “We wanted to show that our perfume is made for real women,” explained a Chanel spokeswoman.

There are some signs fashion companies may not be as intrigued as they once were with using celebrities in their campaigns.

In the mid-Nineties, Prada caught attention with a roster of celebrity models in its campaigns. Joaquin Phoenix, John Malkovich, Tim Roth and Willem Dafoe posed in Prada men’s wear, while Chloe Sevigny and Drew Barrymore sported Miu Miu. But no more. While Prada’s popular ads have a cinematic quality, no starlets are present.

“We chose models for our advertising campaigns because they are more adaptable to the concepts we want to express,” said Miuccia Prada. “Models correspond to the image of the season we want to give.”

Donatella Versace agreed. Even though the house has used Madonna, Milla Jovovich, Lisa Marie Presley, Elizabeth Hurley, Elton John, Courtney Love and Jon Bon Jovi in past campaigns, Versace said models now seem to have the edge.

“The disadvantage toward using a celebrity can be her behavior,” said Versace. “The brand is automatically in the hands of the celebrity and the celebrity can ruin the image if he or she behaves in such a way that it would generate bad publicity which could be detrimental for the brand.

“The advantage of using a model is that he or she only serves as a support to complete a look and the brand image is primary,” she said.

Versace said celebrities have migrated from ad campaigns to fashion editorials, which has clearly been a boon to the house, given its reputation as a top wardrober of music and film royalty, especially at award shows. “Some customers buy according to what they see a celebrity wearing, for example, Jennifer Lopez with our green bamboo-print dress,” she said. “Otherwise, there is the kind of customer who buys based on the clothing, style or color.” For spring, Versace is going the model route.

Christian Dior made headlines over the past year for snaring Paltrow to pitch two of its handbag styles. But for spring, 2001, the French house used model/actress Angela Lindvall because, according to Dior designer John Galliano, “she embodies the contemporary woman and she’s believable as a real person. She falls naturally into shapes that are believable rather than models striking a pose.”

Not that Galliano is opposed to the idea of using a celebrity again. “If there’s an integrity with an actress, I don’t see why it would work,” he said. “If it’s believable, then I’m all for it.”

Meanwhile, H&M, the Swedish fashion chain, continues to believe in the use of celebrities, especially actors or actresses with strong character, such as Chloe Sevigny, Geena Davis, Gary Oldman and Johnny Depp.

“It’s more about attitude and personality, someone the customer can associate with,” said Christian Bagnoud, H&M’s marketing director in the U.S. “Plus, since this is not their job to do advertising, it catches people’s attention.”

Fashion firms acknowledged it is difficult to assess the effectiveness of models versus celebrities in their ads. After all, everything from weather and store locations to the characteristics of the garments themselves all impact purchasing decisions, according to H&M’s Bagnoud.

But focus groups, one-to-one interviews and unsolicited consumer reaction all give clues, he said. For example, H&M received dozens of calls daily to its head office from customers requesting posters of campaigns featuring Oldman and Depp.

Still, H&M rounds out its campaigns with models, using the likes of Claudia Schiffer for its current holiday lingerie campaign. Bagnoud said a famous model like Schiffer has broad appeal, but H&M also uses actors such as Tim Roth, who appears in the current fall-winter campaign, to catch the attention of opinion leaders, too.

Trey Laird, executive vice president of corporate imaging and creative services at Donna Karan International, has featured celebrities ranging from Demi Moore to Diana Ross in its ad campaigns, and continues to do so.

“To me, we always try to start from the vantage point of anything that brings attention to your brand has to fit into your philosophy and brand, drive customers to stores and build awareness of who you are. Those things have to combine. When those things are so aligned, people will say, ‘Of course, Demi Moore would be modeling for Donna Karan.’ When it’s wrong, when they know you’ve hired that person and paid them money to endorse this thing, then it doesn’t work,” he said.

Laird said sometimes models can be just as good as actresses in campaigns. “We shot Karen Elson for DKNY. She was fantastic and fell into character. She had ideas. She was comfortable in front of the camera.”

Laird said he had great results when they used Moore and Willis in the campaign. “It was our most powerful from a sales point of view and an image point of view. We’ve also had models where the season’s been very successful.

“Donna feels very strongly that emotion has to come through. Actors seem like they do it better,” he said. Laird doesn’t worry that the celebrities overshadow Donna or the clothes. “Most people associate her with really strong women and soulfulness.”

Sydney Bachman, senior vice president and global creative director of advertising and fashion at Calvin Klein Inc., has turned its attention lately to featuring new models.

“I think celebrities have been very effective for us when they wear our clothes when they go out at night. We as a company have turned models into celebrities such as Christy Turlington and Kate Moss. When we used celebrities such as musicians, you do notice them. It appeals to different groups. With new musicians, kids ‘in the know’ will know them.”

However, she pointed out, “I like the idea of newness, using someone new is always interesting. People look to Calvin Klein to see who they’re using this season.”

Asked whether celebrities work in advertising, Peter Connolly, president of worldwide marketing and communications at Tommy Hilfiger Corp., said, “It depends. Your goal can’t be, ‘I have got to get a celebrity to do this,’ You have to decide what message you want to send.”

Over the years, Hilfiger has featured sons and daughters of celebrities, as well as Jewel, Britney Spears, Lenny Kravitz and the Rolling Stones. “Our business was good when we used to use them. You can’t measure it on an absolute basis. We think it helps build brands,” said Connolly.

Parfums Carven has a new twist on the celebrity versus model dilemma. The company looked to cyberspace for its out-of-this-world face. The young woman decking the ad for its latest scent, Variations, which launched in Europe in November, is the profile of a computer-generated image created in-house.

“We wanted to be the first to do a visual with a virtual woman,” said Benoit Lemercier, artistic director at the firm. “Today, big brands use well-known models. Our idea was to use a virtual model, completely computer generated, who represents all women today.”