Judge of Character

E-Score Service: Fictional Spokespeople are the Real Deal

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Want your product to seem trendy? Put Desperate Housewife Gabrielle Solis in your ads. Looking for sincere? Dr. George O'Malley of "Grey's Anatomy" is your man. Want to be cool? Believe it or not, Snoopy will do the trick. Someone with influence who can inspire? Supernanny's your go-to girl.

Research firm EPoll Market Research is out marketing a new service, E-Score, that looks at hundreds of fictional characters to find out what traits the audience associates with the personalities that people the big and small screen. Respondents are asked to rate characters on image and name recognition, specific attributes and overall appeal. So forget the messiness of hiring real people, and look to the land of make-believe.

E-Score has measured audience response to real people such as Tom Cruise and Paris Hilton for five years, but this is the first time it has evaluated cartoons and fictional characters.

Gerry Philpott, president-CEO of E-Poll Market Research, said the E-Score character evaluations offer important insight that you can't get from the celebrity studies-such as how well a character's traits really match up with a brand's goals. Clean freak Adrian Monk of "Monk" seems an obvious frontman for an antibacterial hand sanitizer, but other products might need a more nuanced reading. "You really need a three-dimensional picture of somebody to get a good handle on if they'd be good for a product," he said.

alchemy, not science

Supernanny, played by Jo Frost, is viewed as influential, inspirational, believable and sincere, making her a top prospect for a brand spokesperson. Dr. Jack Shephard from ABC's "Lost" gives her a run for her money though, scoring well for bravery and intelligence, and he had some of the lowest scores in the "evil" and "boring" categories. The good doctor's evaluation, based on results from a 1,000-person panel, will show you how he scored in 33 other traits, broken down by demographic.

"When you're trying to justify a decision to bosses, it's always great to have data. Show business is not science. It's magic; it's alchemy," Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University. "You can't use just an E-Score or you'll run into problems. If you've consulted your gut, felt the pulse of the culture at any given time and considered the client, then you can look at the score to confirm or deny."

connecting with moms

Unilever's Ragu and Procter & Gamble's Pampers have already used the Supernanny character in campaigns, and picked up on her spokeswoman traits before E-Score ranked her. Melissa Morante, a Unilever spokesperson, said Ms. Frost's Supernanny persona helped Ragu connect with moms, a prime target. "She certainly added credibility and authority to deliver our healthy-eating and veggie messaging. She was very common-sense, and well-received by the media."

Procter & Gamble Co.'s Pampers enlisted her for a PR program to get out the word about a diaper specially designed to keep babies drier overnight. "Our work with Jo focused on the importance of a good night's sleep for babies and practical tips for parents to help their child get a good night's sleep. Her approach to helping families and sleep was a natural fit for Pampers," said Lisa Jester, a P&G spokesperson.

Some of the E-Score results are pretty intuitive, but some were surprising, like the fact that Snoopy was the highest-rated character in the "cool" category for 13 and older, beating out Jack Bauer of "24" and Capt. Jack Sparrow of "Pirates of the Caribbean" fame. While Gabrielle of "Desperate Housewives" was the highest-ranked character in the "trendsetter" category, the next two spots were filled by tween queen Lizzie McGuire and motocross maverick Carey Hart. (A separate set of characters-think more SpongeBobs and fewer Desperate Housewives-were put before viewers ages 6 to 12.) Tony Soprano was one of the top 10 scorers in "untrustworthy" and "love to hate," but Mr. Thompson said that doesn't necessarily mean the Mafioso would be bad for marketing. After all, even ads need villains.

John Osborn, president-CEO, BBDO, New York, said there are right and wrong times to use a celebrity. He said the idea or concept of the campaign comes first, and then thoughts about whether a celebrity tie-in will work. What to look for in the celebrity or character in question? Overexposure can hurt you (note to Paris), and it's good to look for something or someone unexpected.

So when do you go with Indiana Jones, who hasn't seen the silver screen in 17 years, or 56-year-old Snoopy, and when do you use today's "it" girl?

"For every example, there's a counterexample," Mr. Osborn said. "That's the beauty of what advertising is supposed to bring to the table in terms of our message."

Top-scoring spokescharacters

1. Super-nanny: Scored highest in the inspirational and influential categories, and is also seen as believable and sincere.

2 'Grey's anatomy': Dr. O'Malley was most sincere, and McDreamy, natch, was the only man among the top 10 sexiest.

3. Gabrielle solis: The Desperate Housewife was the highest scorer in the sexy and trendsetter categories.

4. Karen Walker: 'Will & Grace's' 40-something alcoholic divorcée scored high for sexy, trendy and overall appeal.

5. Super-heroes: Superman was seen as inspirational, honest and brave. Other comic-book crusaders also fared well.

6. donkey: Shrek's sidekick was most appealing to the 6-to-12 set, and the over-13 group ranked him seventh-highest.

7. rory gilmore: The younger Gilmore Girl is seen as believable, trendy and sincere.

8. penguins: The 'Madagascar'penguins who think they are spies are cool, and 58% of kids placed them in the highest category for appeal.
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