Is Liz Lemon a glamour gal?
Earlier this year L'Oréal Garnier enlisted as its latest spokeswoman comedienne Tina Fey, who plays the nerdy, put-upon Ms. Lemon in NBC's "30 Rock" and variations on the character in movies such as "Baby Mama," "Mean Girls" and "Date Night." Ms. Fey is only Garnier's second U.S. "brand ambassador" in about a decade, and inherits the mantle from seasoned fashonista Sarah Jessica Parker.
Ms. Fey, however, doesn't look much like the mousy showrunner she plays on NBC in two new Garnier ads created by Publicis Groupe 's Publicis, New York. Her hair is thick and lustrous and the product, not her offbeat humor, is the star. "There was a conscious effort to make sure our product was taken seriously, and she immediately understood that ," said Linda Joselow, exec VP-group account director at Publicis New York, who helped oversee the ad.
Once known for teasing marketers, Ms. Fey's decision to smile for Garnier suggests advertisers see a broader role for this funny lady even as they sand down her quirkier edges to make her suitable for new parts.
Fascination with her isn't hard to understand. Tom Julian, a fashion and retail marketing consultant, says she's the modern day Mary Tyler Moore. "She's every man's smart person," said Randall Stone, a senior partner at the Lippincott branding consultancy. "She has a directness, a dry unpretentiousness and comes across as very approachable."
Ms. Fey is "funny in a very classy, sophisticated, Rodney Dangerfield way, he added. "You never feel the pity," even when the characters she plays seem flustered, said John V. Allen, a branding expert who runs Highbridge Consulting in Clinton, Ct.
She has also quickly developed into an expert pitchwoman. Under her aegis, "30 Rock" has pioneered a TV-advertising technique: placing a sponsor's product into a show, then letting characters poke fun at it or use it in odd ways. "Can we have our money now?" the fictional Liz Lemon asked in a 2007 episode of "30 Rock" after she and Alec Baldwin's Jack Donaghy blatantly promoted Verizon Wireless as part of a real product-placement pact with NBC.
Ms. Fey knows what she can do to make people laugh and doesn't shy away from it, said Jim Jenkins, a director at O Positive Films who supervised a 2007 American Express ad she starred in. "She's willing to always poke fun at herself and she's not afraid to look bad for a laugh, and that 's an attractive quality," he said.
But her profile appears to be growing. From her monologues on "Saturday Night Live's" Weekend Update to her Sarah Palin impression to her hapless "30 Rock" character trying to balance job satisfaction with a love life, Ms. Fey is a sort of "relatable individual that does line up with what Mary Tyler Moore was" in her heyday, said Tom Julian, a fashion and retail marketing consultant who runs Tom Julian Group. "There was never any scandal scenario, and you never got any bad back-story with Mary Tyler Moore—or with Tina."
Ms. Fey, whose publicist said she would not be available to comment, has seen her "familiarity" increase in recent years, according to data from Marketing Evaluations, the company that maintains the "Q Scores" upon which many advertisers rely, owing to her appearance on a prime-time TV show.
At the same time, the Garnier role "is kind of out of character" for the actress, said Mr. Allen, who did a "double take" upon seeing the new ads. "You can almost tell it's not her voice in these commercials," said Mr. Stone. "I guess I feel like they overcompensated just a bit."
Yet Garnier picked Ms. Fey for the sorts of qualities she has always embodied, said Kat Peeler, senior VP-marketing, for Garnier's hair-care and color products.
"In addition to being this very modern woman, she is very smart, funny, approachable and beautiful," Ms. Peeler said.
Past ads featuring or crafted by Ms. Fey have largely relied on her voice to make their point. American Express in 2007 and 2008 ran commercials featuring Ms. Fey acting much like Liz Lemon—insanely busy, frenzied, just trying to get a few things done before a few other things absorbed her attention. One ad was filmed at the same studio in Queens where her sitcom is shot, said Jim Jenkins, a director at O Positive Films who supervised a 2007 American Express ad she starred in.
"It's pretty much "30 Rock,'" Mr. Jenkins said.
Even when Ms. Fey touts more highfalutin' items, such as American Express' Platinum card, she keeps things down to earth. In 2008, when she appeared in an ad touting travel services available to Platinum users, she said in a news release, "Some people travel for business and some people travel to see the world, but I think most of us travel so our kids will know their cousins, and as an excuse to play miniature golf."
One reason Ms. Fey may be in demand is that she has been a student of some of advertising's new forms.
As one executive familiar with the situation described it, "30 Rock" producers realize the show's ratings (it reached about 4.8 million people on average as of March 18 this season, according to Nielsen, while CBS's "NCIS" reached nearly 20 million) mean the program should do what it can to generate ad support. At the same time, the executive said, Ms. Fey and other producers want to protect the "30 Rock" voice and will write product appearances into the program themselves, often using the arch sensibility that is so much a part of the show.
Snapple was the first beneficiary of this largess. In a 2006 episode, Liz Lemon and other characters sit around a writers' table bemoaning a directive that requires them to place more ad products into shows. As they complain, the characters praise Snapple, with Jack Donaghy saying, "Everyone loves Snapple. Lord knows I do." A person dressed in a Snapple-bottle costume is spotted walking out of an elevator. (An NBC spokeswoman for "30 Rock," said Robert Carlock, an executive producer widely acknowledged to supervise work with advertisers, was not available for comment.)
Should Ms. Fey's work for Garnier strike a chord, demand for her pitchwoman services -- minus her comedic tics -- could increase. But Ms. Fey and her Liz Lemon character are more or less inseparable; to be sure, Ms. Fey seems to be playing herself. If marketers have their way, however, the comedian and the character may soon have to part.