Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Is Matthew McConaughey An Appropriate Spokesperson For Lincoln?

When I was an account person, the first thing I was taught about celebrity endorsements was that the celebrity had to have something to do with the product.  And I always thought that was the right way to approach an endorsement.

Matthew McConaughey is the spokesman for Lincoln’s MKC, a family crossover car. Clearly, he is the star of the moment; he is a fine actor and is reputed to be a good family man, but somehow, I don’t believe that Mr. McConaughey actually tools around Beverly Hills or Austin, Texas in an MKC (They may have given him one as part of his deal, but if so, what did he drive before, despite professing to have driven a Lincoln in one of the commercials?).

I don’t believe this any more than I thought that Tiger Woods drove a Buick (a although his endorsement of that brand was as much about rallying the dealers as anything else).  On the other hand, Tiger endorsing Nike was a stroke of brilliance (pardon the pun) because his endorsement works for the company’s entire product line – shoes, clothing, equipment – and is totally believable and plausible.  And, despite his current golfing and health issues, he continues to be a great spokesperson.

Looking at commercials and deciding on who are appropriate and inappropriate spokes-people is a fun thing to do.

One of the classic campaigns for Volkswagen in the heyday of Doyle Dane Bernbach was having basketball player Wilt Chamberlain as a spokesperson for the VW Beetle.  It, too, was a stroke of genius.  While he never professed to actually own one, the point was that at 7’1”, he could fit in one – which helped solve a marketing issue for the little Beetle.

Today, for sure, Taylor Swift will be a perfect spokesperson for Coke, BeyoncĂ© may drink Pepsi and use L’Oreal; and Catherine Zeta-Jones may use T-Mobile (why not?), but does Paris Hilton really go to Carl’s Jr (has she ever been to one and does anyone really care?)?  I suppose there is some justification in Florence Henderson touting Polident (does she really have dentures and why would she admit it?).  Does Jessica Simpson really go to or use Weight Watchers products, despite her huge swings in weight?  The list goes on and on. 

There are dozens of celebrity endorsers out there who have little to do with the product, but they feed the client’s ego. Often these deals were/are driven by senior clients or agency people who want to meet and hang out with stars. In my opinion, they are inefficient and may, in fact backfire. 

Last year,  Charlize Theron endorsed Raymond Weil watches, but was then caught wearing another brand at a major event. It created a lot of negative publicity both for the star and for the brand.  She was clearly borrowed interest (how much interest is questionable in the first place). Years ago I worked with Elgin watches as an account person.  They wanted desperately to have a celebrity endorsement.  They managed to negotiate a deal with a popular actor at the time, Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou, The Dirty Dozen).  When he showed up at their offices he was wearing a Rolex; they had the good sense to cancel the deal.  Companies should think twice about asking for an endorsement which is not a natural fit.

I think in advertising parlance it is called borrowed interest.  And borrowed interest never lasts long.
Matthew McConaughey is, in my opinion, borrowed interest. What do you think?


  1. I am perhaps too much the contrarian, but I've always felt that the way to lose is to do the obvious things in the obvious ways. If you are Lincoln, you can afford a celebrity and maybe your dealers and your marketing people and their bosses who get to meet the celebrity will be excited about it. But, what are you really saying about Lincoln? Tiger Woods had endless endorsement deals, but few if any other brands got the advantage that Nike did out of him. Appropriateness was only part of that. The other part was in knowing how to use him, in doing the obvious thing but never in the obvious way... unlocking his celebrity value by being the one place you see through the cracks in the facade to something like a person beneath. If you have the money to play that game, there is a way to play it well. If you're not sure you have the money to play that game, don't even go there. There are other ways.

    1. Great point, Mark. What is it that he is saying about Lincoln? I am not sure.

    2. I'm with Mark here. I think that use of a celebrity isn't always as an "endorser" or pitchman, to use your Carl's Jr / Paris HIlton example. Like the ad or not, that was a clever conceptual campaign that used the least likely skinny, rich, it-girls of the moment. In other words, their utter and complete lack of connection to the product was a huge part of the idea.

      As for Lincoln, before the McConaughey spots I never would have thought twice about buying one; it's just not top of mind. I don't think I could even name one Lincoln ad. But I'm sure thinking about those ads now, and I'd imagine anyone who loved True Detective is too. If they're rebranding to reach GenX/Gen Y-ers I think it's a terrific start. Especially since he really does drive a Lincoln MKX and can speak authentically about it.

      Check out this post from 2008: http://www.ridelust.com/50-celebrities-their-cars/ I know! I had no idea either. But now I do. Which to me is a huge score.

      Russ Cohle 4Ever.

    3. Okay, so he really does drive one. I am still not sure what he communicates for the brand.

    4. He communicates, "you might be surprised...but cool iconoclasts like Matthew McConaughey drive a Lincoln. Maybe you should check one out too."

      Is there more that needs to be said?

  2. I was taught from day one that celebrities should never be used unless they have a true link to the product. I've only used them twice in over 30 years, and always remembered that. For a new cold medicine we hired Ed Flanders who at the time was prominent for playing a physician on St. Elsewhere. And for Lifestyles Condoms we hired Dr. Ruth Westheimer (I'll never forget the opening line "Do you use condoms? Good!"). In both cases there was a logical reason to use the celeb. Other than that, it's a waste of your client's money.

  3. I wonder if they are reaching back to McConaughey's movie a few years ago titled - Lincoln Lawyer - where he played a defense attorney working out of his Lincoln, as his office. ?

  4. Celebrity endorsers are always fun, but Paul’s point about “borrowed interest” is a cautionary tale not to be ignored by any brand marketer.

    The first time I learned, many years ago, about celebrity endorsers was when I was a pup account executive at Ted Bates. There I was taught by our agency Godfather, Rosser Reeves, about borrowed interest and what he famously called “vampire video.” That is, any irrelevant visual or endorsement (whether TV, print, whatever) that stole away from the brand’s core-copy selling message. Which explained why the only celebrity endorser we had for any brand at Bates (and we had hundreds at the time) was O.J. Simpson for Hertz … “Superstar in Rent-a-Car”. O.J. jumping over hurdles at the airport, etc. It just made consumer sense.

    When I moved on to SSC&B:Lintas, we had Cheryl Tiegs for Cover Girl cosmetics and Whitney Huston for Diet Coke. Again, they just made sense and Rosser would have approved.

    But like Paul and his experienced commentators, I do wonder what’s going on today. It seems like we are signing up famous people just to get attention – which might be a legitimate reason in today’s digital media age, where the consumer attention span is equivalent to a gnat’s. But it’s still “borrowed interest” and a two-edged sword at best. O.J.’s still doing time in jail, and the recent NFL controversy over Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Roger Goodell, et al, kind of puts everyone on notice about the wisdom of using irrelevant and unproven celebrity endorsers in lieu of an actual brand USP.

    Who’s next … Lady Gaga? Bill Crandall

  5. I agree that McConaughey is pretty much borrowed interest, just as GM's recent decision to move the Cadillac brand to New York is borrowed interest. Whether McConaughey's spokesperson role was inspired by his part in "Lincoln Lawyer" -- as noted above by Margaret A. Gomez -- or because his Q-Score stats somehow aligned with GM's marketing demographics, I find a strange disconnect here.

    "And, despite his current golfing and health issues, [Tiger Woods] continues to be a great spokesperson."

    I have to respectfully disagree with you there, Paul. Mr. Woods' personal transgressions won't soon be forgotten. I don't believe that's what Nike had intended with "Just Do It."

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