Selecting the right celebrity to endorse a brand is a tricky proposition. When an endorsement hits the mark, it can make a brand’s credibility and popularity skyrocket. But when an endorsement falls flat it can result in a huge waste of money. Last year, we corralled everything our principals have learned about celebrity endorsements in their 50 combined years in advertising with a blog entitled “The Field Guide to Choosing a Celebrity Spokesperson.” The project encouraged some agency-wide soul searching, and we finally came to the frank realization that choosing the right celebrity is much more an of art than a science.

Wingman’s success in matching celebrities and brands didn’t come after reading a textbook or white paper. It was developed after decades of A/B tests, difficult client status calls, and analytics, until we evolved our well-honed celebrity-choosing instincts. You can read our entire manifesto here, but to boil it down, there are three essential elements to making the right choice and supporting it with strategy.

Find a celebrity willing to put their name on the line
It’s mandatory that our celebrities put their reputations on the lines for our brands. When a celebrity has skin in the game, the ad’s credibility goes through the roof. It communicates to the audience that Joe or Jane Hollywood isn’t in it for the paycheck, but their best interests. We encourage our celebrities to learn about our clients and to be prepared to stick their neck out for them.

In a Wingman-produced spot it’s common to hear the line: “I’ve met these guys and I will tell you I’m putting my name on the line because I believe in them.” Recently, we’ve asked award-winning-actor Ed Asner, SNL legend Rob Schneider, L.A. Dodger great Nomar Garciaparra, and Olympic gold-medalist Mia Hamm to give personal, full-throated, “I put my name on it” endorsements and the radio spots spun direct-response gold.

Choose someone that matches your strategic interests
Your short list should be candidates with credibility that match the campaign’s psychographics while working within your budget and time considerations. You could drop a contract in front of Miley Cyrus to endorse your next-day carpet installation company, but the ad will be D.O.A. (dead on airing) because she’s wrong for the demo and has little credibility on the topic of carpet installation. Wrecking balls? Yes. Carpet installation? No. Star power has never equaled response and you don’t want to learn that lesson the hard way. It’s expensive.

Authenticity
Focus on celebrities who possess the intangibles that’ll breathe life into a campaign. Would your celebrity actually use this product or service? Ed Asner was the perfect spokesperson for Verengo Solar because he was a life-long environmental advocate. Does their image match the brand’s? Burt Reynolds was a fun choice for Rhino Shield ceramic house coat because both are tough and have staying power. The brand-to-celebrity connection must make logical and emotional sense to the audience.

Celebrity spokespeople must bring their authentic voice to the campaign. This is where agencies working with a tight budget can make a killing. Your celebrity doesn’t have to be an A-lister, but he or she must speak from the heart and never sound like they’re regurgitating copy points. The ad has to sound like they’re speaking about the product naturally with their own words, cadence, and personality. We use a simple trick in our radio recording sessions to make this happen. We ask celebrities to reword the copy we’ve provided and read it as if they’re telling a friend. We’ll also ask them to freestyle the ad so it so it sounds like it’s coming off the top of their head. If the take works, we use it. If not, we hit delete.

WHO’S DOING IT RIGHT?

Jennifer Garner, Capital One Venture Card

In 2014, Capital One signed Jennifer Garner as their spokeswoman for its Capital One Venture Air Miles credit card after ending a long-term partnership with Alec Baldwin. Baldwin’s outspoken nature makes him a credible spokesperson, but a ticking PR time bomb. Garner is a perfect match for the brand because she has the stature and professionalism that makes her a believable pitchwoman for a financial services product. But what puts her over the top is her girl-next-door friendliness makes Garner a natural fit for Capital One’s down-to-earth, consumer-friendly image.

The Venture card positions itself as the card that gives you the freedom to use your air miles on “any airline, any flight, any time with no blackout dates.” Garner’s breezy, trustworthy personality makes her a perfect foil for those evil credit card companies with their shady airline mile practices. And let’s face it, she isn’t hard to look at, either. Garner’s looks have made her the face of Neutrogena since 2010.

Julianne Hough, Proactiv

Watch the look that Julianne Hough makes after uttering the line: “I have been a Proactiv customer for almost ten years, and it still amazes me that people ask ‘Does that stuff really work?’” Her head twist and incredulous look is the right mix of cute and confident that makes her the perfect fit for a brand that promises teens freedom from acne. America first met her nine years ago on “Dancing with the Stars,” so we know she’s had to be concerned about her on-camera appearance for a good portion of her life. But her skin is blemish-free without the ad’s producers resorting to soft-focus lighting effects. Do we think Hough uses the product? Yep. Is she credible? She has a squeaky clean image so her believability is off the charts. We should be seeing Julianne Hough working for Proactiv for years to come.

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