With Jamie Oliver, Gok Wan and Heston Blumenthal among the UK celebrities starring in Australia’s TV commercial breaks for local brands you could be forgiven for thinking there are no celebrities Down Under.
But the latest cohort of brand ambassador imports are not in town due to a dearth of local talent but an oversupply, according to McCann’s chief executive Ben Lilley.
Thanks to the boom of reality television Lilley believes there are “more than enough” celebrities, of the c-list and b-list variety that is.
“We are literally inundated with manufactured local celebrities and more brands who do want a spokesperson who can set them apart from that need to look further afield,” Lilley says.
Coles marketing head Simon McDowell confirmed the need to look further afield when he was recently asked why the supermarket had chosen an international ambassador over a local star.
“What we’re trying to do is build the most compelling, engaging and unique brand in Australia,” McDowell said.
“To do this we look wherever we possibly can, looking at different ways and platforms to do that.”
Australia’s marketers have a soft spot for UK stars with many of their offshore searches ending with British favourites.
British fashion consultant Gok Wan is making appearances in Target’s ads and Dawn French joined Coles’ other celebrity chef, Australian Curtis Stone, for the supermarket giant’s FlyBuys push.
Modern Family actor Eric Stonestreet isn’t British but he is another example of an overseas celebrity promoting a local brand. He started appearing in Big W's ads earlier this year.
Securing an international celebrity would presumably come with added challenges – scheduling dramas, bigger fees and issues around guaranteeing long-term use so the personality can develop into a brand cue.
Is the extra hassle worth it?
Jane Ketelbey, client development director at Millward Brown, says it may not be.
“What we know from our link studies is that there is not a dramatic difference between the average scores for ads featuring international celebrities and those using local celebrities,” Ketelbey told B&T. That Link study was a comparison of 12,000 ads including 2,800 local spots.
A star with true mass appeal delivers a high degree of visibility while local celebrities are more effectively used to target niches, Ketelbey says.
No matter the level of stardom an ambassador possesses longevity of use is key to ensuring the brand garners the benefits.
“In another example that was tracked over a number of years where a celebrity was used who wasn’t that well known, it wasn’t until the following campaign execution that the benefits started to be seen,” Ketelbey explains.
“Whilst we haven’t done research on Gok I would expect it would be about consistency and investing behind using that person over time to ensure they then become a brand cue.”
Consumers today don’t make the distinction between local celebrities and global ones, according to Lilley.
“While it’s obviously critical for every brand and client to ensure that their communications and their brand and marketing strategies are absolutely localised, the reality is that most consumers now are in fact global consumers.
“A lot of clients would be limiting themselves if they only looked for local celebrities that might be available.”
Using Metro Train’s viral video Dumb Ways to Die as an example, Lilley says looking to the global stage and incorporating international reference points into brand’s communications will “hugely amplify their impact and success globally”.
Rather than feature Australian icons and unique Aussie dangers the award-winning video used international cues such as grizzly bears and piranhas and has gone on to be viewed millions of time.
The use of celebrities in ads has accelerated; in the ten years to 2006 the number of UK spots featuring a celebrity increased almost 100% to hit one in five.
Globally, one in five ads now features a celebrity according to Millward Brown research.
In Australia about 7% of ads use a famous person but that figure rockets upwards in countries such as China and Japan.
It’s important not to be blinded by a star’s appeal, counsels Ketelbey.
“The celebrity doesn’t compensate for the creative idea,” she says.
“The right celebrity used in the right way can be an extremely powerful brand asset but it’s that degree to which the character matches the need of the brand that will prove to be much more compelling than just fame alone.”