Celebrity endorsement is the oldest trick in the marketing book. It’s actually on the page before the talking animals. And yet it has to be one of the least convincing forms of advertising there is. The public have always known the real reason that a celebrity is promoting a product has nothing to do with the product. They know this because celebrities, much like teenagers, will only ever address you directly when they’re after money. In fact these days the whole phenomenon has become deeply postmodern. What we’re thinking isn’t ‘wow, if Federer shaves with a Gillette, they must have a good product and be a great brand’ but, ‘wow, if Federer shills for Gillette, they must be a rich brand and therefore have a great product’.
There’s always irony I suppose. As every adman knows, an air of detachment is the best defence against the accusation of selling out. Jack Black’s recent cinema spot for Orange in which he is manipulated like a puppet, whilst pretending outrage at being treated as a puppet, whilst in reality being a puppet, serves to demonstrate just how complex the whole business has become.
Far simpler is if the person who makes the products can themselves become a celebrity. The best example of this is Steve Jobs. He is not just the CEO, but somehow the embodiment of Apple. So earnest, so imperious, so smug, he exudes their brand values from every pore. And when he appears on our screens to show us their latest gizmo we have a sense that he’s invested not just financially but personally in its success. Whatever his faults, he is authentic, in that special way that you can see on TV.
So the appointment of Lady Gaga to the role of Polaroid’s creative director looks, at first sight, like the inevitable, cynical coalescence of these trends. You give her a job title and have her ‘do a Steve Jobs’ at CES. She then holds the prototype and trots out the spec in a dress made of salami. The press take photos, Twitterers Tweet etc. Everyone is happy.
Only it looks like that job title really is attached to a job. The proof is in the products: a handbag-sized bluetooth printer (meh), a new camera (meh) and a pair of sunglasses that not only film what you see, but then play back that film on screens that cover your eyes (er … wow?!). Now that, Ladies and Gentleman, is a bananas idea. It doesn’t matter if the glasses sell negligibly, they are still a better advert for Polaroid than any conventional advert could ever be. This is pure Gaga, she is, after all, a woman who knows how to sell the sizzle and not the sausage.
Even optics execs will take risks in the presence of a popstar. She’s doing what any good CD should: persuading the suits to stop worrying just long enough to do something likeable.
If this idea catches on who knows what exciting products the future holds. Already this year we’ve seen rapper and compulsive punctuator Will.i.am signed up as the director of creative innovations at HP. And I personally cannot wait to use the photocopier that offers colour, black and white or autotune.
‘Gordon Comstock’ is a copywriter at a London-based advertising agency. He blogs at notvoodoo.blogspot.com