Capital One Go Celebrity Crazy For March Madness

Capital One

On the Road Again


Why use one celebrity in your ad when you could use five? Capital One’s new commercial, released for the NBA’s March Madness tournament, has a glittering cast list. Basketball legends Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson, A-list actors Samuel L Jackson and Jennifer Garner, and country music legend Willie Nelson join forces for this singalong road trip, which celebrates the bank’s decade-plus association with the tournament.

With a famous face appearing every six seconds, you might think there’s not a lot of room in the ad for a story. You’d be right. The ad is an excuse to show the stars hanging out, exchanging a few jokes (and a few product messages), and singing along with the 89-year old singer’s rendition of his classic “On the Road Again”. This is an ad that’s heavy on good vibes, light on events, and that suits it fine. It suits audiences fine too – landing a 4.8-Star score in a category (credit cards) that averages a woeful 1.8-Stars.

Celebrities are one of the most popular ways that brands look to get attention for their advertising. We recently analyzed the last four years of Super Bowl ads, and found that a massive two-thirds of commercials used a celebrity. When the tactic works, like in this Capital One ad, it works brilliantly.

But brands looking to sign up stars should be careful. Not every celebrity ad is as fun or crowd-pleasing as “On the Road Again”. On average, all that fame doesn’t make a great deal of difference to effectiveness. The ads with a celebrity end up with exactly the same average Star Rating as the ads without one.

What does that mean? Not that celebrities are ineffective – Willie and the gang are doing a great job for Capital One, after all. But that they’re no guarantee of success – you have to use them well. Celebrities in an ad can get you initial attention but the ad needs to be good. That usually means understanding why people like them and presenting that appeal in a humorous, incongruous, or larger-than-life way. Like having them hang out in a semi-truck singing Willie Nelson songs, for instance.

Celebrity ads which score as well as this are as any other 4.8-Star ads (in other words, pretty rare, especially if you’re in financial services). Fortunately, there are techniques that require less financial investment but more time. The same analysis of Super Bowl ads which shows celebrities don’t improve effectiveness shows that Fluent Devices – characters created by and for a brand, then used repeatedly over time – do boost audience response. Obviously, they’re also considerably cheaper, do what you tell them, and won’t show up in anyone else’s ad.

Capital One’s March Madness ad is a great use of guest stars and a stellar commercial for its category. Marketers should look to it as an example of how to use celebrities effectively – but should also be aware that for a lot of brands, hired guns don’t fire this well.

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