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A big name and a pretty face help–but there’s much more that goes into making a celebrity endorsement work.

Megan Fox

Do you really want to deal with someone who requires a constant supply of truffles and Coke Zero in a dressing room cooled to precisely 68 degrees? And, when lunch is served, by the way, it has to be at 12:35 sharp.

Working with a celebrity on an ad campaign can be a daunting affair: Landing a big star is only the first challenge. There are the logistics and potentially high costs. Yet, the name recognition that comes with a 30-second spot can do more, potentially, for a company than an entire year’s worth of advertising efforts.

To learn more about what goes into a successful celebrity endorsement, I talked to Acer Computer about its recent Megan Fox ad campaign, which has racked up more than 4.3 million views on YouTube (at last count). You may not have Acer’s marketing budget, but you can still learn a thing or two on how to create a campaign that works.

The Message

According to Maarten Schellekens, a senior marketing director at Acer, the decision to hire Fox wasn’t just about name recognition–though the actress and model has plenty of that. It was more about the statement the company wanted to make about its brand. “A computer is the most central device that people own,” says Schellekens. “We didn’t want to emphasize the low-end, but how we help move people forward.”

The trick, of course, is how to successfully link the celebrity to that message.

Schellekens says the first ad with Fox, which jokingly suggests she has a new-found scientific passion to teach dolphins how to communicate, is all about someone doing something unexpected.

“Don’t just hire an A-lister to get eyeballs on your brand,” he says. “Formulate what you stand for, and develop a script around that message first. Be explicit about your brand positioning.” In other words, hiring a pretty face to sell a gizmo rarely works, he says.

The Celebrity

The next step, Schellekens says, is to find someone who can create a sense of surprise. Acer wanted to promote the idea of stretching yourself with new ideas. Acer knew that Fox was not known as a computer guru (even though, according to company reps, she is) or someone who is in love with science.

Finding the right person can be a lengthy process, he says, because there are so many possible marketing angles, and because it’s so tempting to break from the message you want to promote. The celebrity has to be willing to go along with the brand message, and even agree to the surprising twist you want to promote. With Fox, Schellekens says she was already interested in science and marine life. But how to communicate that idea? Have her rescue live lobsters from a restaurant fish tank and set them free in the ocean, of course.

Make It Stick

Acer adds humor to the spot successfully, but Schellekens says if you do it, stay on message. At the very end of the ad, the dolphin makes a funny quip. Originally, he says, the ad agency wanted to make a joke about the dolphin partying with Fox, but that was not quite true to the message.

Above everything else, Schellekens says, an effective celebrity spot needs a takeaway with a purpose and some “meat” to it. With the Fox campaign, it’s the idea that a computer helps you do more. Even if the viewer remembers Fox and only part of the actual commercial, the message will stick.