Celeb-backed Ads: is the Star Power Necessary?

Famous figures can help advertisers entertain audiences – but are they worth the investment?

From Hollywood actors to sports stars to musicians, there’s no shortage of celebrities in today’s advertisements. Recently, some brands have even turned to TikTok influencers to engage viewers and build positive associations rooted in pop culture.

Companies link up with celebrities for many reasons. They have large established followings and often evoke powerful emotional responses; they have unique skills they can leverage to entertain audiences, like comedy and athleticism; and they add a cool factor to the brand at hand. Want to “Be Like Mike”? Gatorade’s classic spot features acclaimed athlete Michael Jordan and tells viewers to “Drink Gatorade” if you’re hoping to be a star. It’s just one example of the ways in which brands use well-known figures to tout their products and services.

But are these stars truly necessary for brand building? We take a deeper dive into this issue, as well as several campaigns that have successfully leveraged celebrities.


Are Celebrities Worth the Investment?

Sometimes bringing in a famous figure can offer both short-term sales activation and long-term brand building benefits. So, do brands need celebrities to make effective ads? Thankfully, the answer is no. Often the big budgets reserved for brand ambassadors can be spent in other ways to make an ad that will resonate with viewers and support growth.

As discussed in Orlando Wood’s book Look out, “hired devices,” which can be celebrities or existing characters like movie or TV figures (like this James Bond appearance in Heineken’s ad), are typically more likely to produce short-term, sales activation effects compared to proprietary fluent devices that are created by brands and used consistently. Celebrities can encourage people to make purchases or take other important actions, like make donations. However, they are less effective over the long term. Fluent devices are better at increasing market share gain and profit gain than celebrities.

Additionally, celebrities are humans. In an age where the cameras are always rolling, tying a brand to a larger-than-life figure comes with its own set of risks. Personal scandals involving spokespersons, which often happen without warning, may tarnish a brand’s reputation, requiring greater investment to build the brand up again.

Lastly, while celebrities can help boost the effect of advertising, there are also plenty of cases where big names have been big flops. If a brand does choose to use a famous figure, it’s crucial to make sure that the celebrity is a relevant fit, won’t overshadow the brand, can lean into their true personality and isn’t the sole source of interest. Early-stage ad testing can help brands better understand how audiences feel about the partnership and ways to enhance creative to maximise the investment and market share growth.


Famous Faces Delivering Success

If a brand is set on using a celebrity, there are several entertaining ads that can offer learnings.

The Boy and the Piano

John Lewis


The retailer’s moving Christmas ad is a great example of the importance of strong storytelling. It takes us back in time with icon Elton John, showing his days of stardom, his early beginnings as a performer and lastly, the Christmas morning he is gifted a piano that sparks his love of music. The ad’s message that “Some gifts are more than just a gift” rings true given the high levels of happiness the viewers feel as well as Elton’s 50+ year career. It scores 4.1-Stars, making it an effective ad for long-term market share growth.


Aviation Gin


What do you get when you mix together celebrity appearances, humour and a recurring scenario? It’s a recipe for brand building in this Father’s Day series from Aviation Gin, owned by Ryan Reynolds. The 2021 version of the mixology masterclass ad features Reynolds himself, and scores 5.2-Stars for its funny nod to fatherhood. Meanwhile, the 2022 spot leverages Nick Cannon, who has eight kids and counting, to bring the laughs and another strong 4-Star score. It’s unclear which friend Reynolds will tap for the 2023 iteration, but it’s a smart strategy to continue giving viewers what they like when you find a formula that works well.

Xuxa – ABC da Amazon



Amazon enlists Brazilian singer and television show entertainer Xuxa for a 4.7-Star ad showcasing its vast product range and voice-activated ordering capabilities. What makes this spot special is that it plays on one of Xuxa’s prior hit songs, “Abecedario da Xuxa,” and is not just a standard product endorsement. This new version replaces the original items in the alphabet with products available from Amazon. We see an immediate spike in Happiness when Xuxa starts singing the familiar melody known to many Brazilians. It’s an example of how taking advantage of what a star is famous for can make an ad entertaining for the audience.

You’re not you when you’re hungry



Snickers has cleverly crafted a recurring scenario that showcases a character acting unlike their usual self until they get a taste of the chocolate bar. Occasionally, stars contribute to the campaign. In “The Game,” Snickers brings the beloved Betty White into a competitive football game between friends. The funny juxtaposition between the younger men and the older celebrity generates high happiness levels and a strong 4.3-Star score via our Test Your Ad platform. In the UK, the brand also secured 4.3-Stars with an ad featuring Mr. Bean, proving that humour can be an essential ingredient when using celebrities.

2022 é feito com você



This 4.8-Star ad from Itaú casts theatre, television and movie star Fernanda Montenegro as well as Alice, a baby who went viral for being able to speak complex words at a young age. The ad plays on the nature of Alice’s internet videos, but instead of someone challenging her pronunciation skills, she’s asking the acclaimed actress to say what helps change the world. Following two difficult pandemic years, this hopeful and heartwarming ad brings together two different generations to share hope for a new year. Viral trends and multiple celebrities can work well together if the script is well executed and plays on each star’s strengths.

Want to further understand the pitfalls to avoid when casting a star or see how your celebrity-backed advertisement fairs with viewers?

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