"A celebrity alone is not a sufficiently strong message to support a brand," said Jim Nail, chief marketing and strategy officer for Cymfony. "It goes back to the sort of fundamental word-of-mouth-marketing principals that an [ad] needs to be something unusual, kind of unexpected, that gets people to say, 'Wow, why is that happening?'"
Ranking celebrity ads from last year's Super Bowl on the basis of volume, favorability and polarity in traditional media and social media, Cymfony found that insurance company Nationwide's pairing with wannabe rapper and former Britney Spears flame Kevin Federline was the year's most successful celebrity spot. The ad, which features Mr. Federline rapping about fame and fortune one minute and slinging fries as a fast-food worker the next, garnered about eight times the "buzz" of other Super Bowl ads because it was unexpected, Mr. Nail said.
"Kevin Federline is kind of this non-personality, non-celebrity who [stars in] this endorsement ... where he pokes fun of himself," Mr. Nail said.
Why others fell flat
By comparison, other celebrity ads that aired during last year's Super Bowl, including a Pizza Hut ad starring singer Jessica Simpson and a Revlon spot featuring singer Sheryl Crow, fell flat because they followed traditional, safe patterns of celebrity endorsement, Mr. Nail said.
Doing PR in advance of a celebrity spot is best way for marketers to generate hype for a celebrity spot, he said, noting that Nationwide got even more attention when the National Restaurant Association raised concern about the way Mr. Federline portrayed fast-food workers. By having Mr. Federline issue an apology to the organization, the insurance marketer garnered even more attention for the ad. (Incidentally, Mr. Nail recommends that any marketer launching a potentially controversial celebrity ad have a crisis-communications team firmly in place beforehand.)
Looking ahead to 2008's Super Bowl prospects, Mr. Nail said he is anticipating the pairings between former "Baywatch" siren Carmen Electra and Hershey's and Justin Timberlake and Pepsi, because both have potential to generate heat. Ms. Electra's sexy image and Mr. Timberlake's first Super Bowl appearance since that infamous "wardrobe malfunction" of 2004 have already sparked talk in the blogosphere, Mr. Nail said.
"[Advertisers] have to take a risk," he said. "The safe, tried-and-true sports figures and actors with a product just don't do it."