Opinion: The Marketing Society Forum - Will big-budget celebrity Christmas ads put consumers off this year?

Sainsbury's has signed up Ant and Dec up for its Christmas push and Marks & Spencer is again using an array of stars. Asda, however, has taken a different tack, using the residents of a Yorkshire village.

MAYBE - Hamish Pringle Director-general, IPA

Being put off by celebrity ads is not a seasonal issue - it can happen at any time. Customers view them with a cynical eye - they know the stars are doing it for the money - so the skill is to counteract this.

The key is to understand that using a celebrity is not an idea in itself, it's an execution. The way it works best is when a star enhances, amplifies and accelerates the communication of an engaging and motivating brand proposition.

The very best celebrity campaigns are the ones where the product and star combine to produce something only they share.

This is the reason why the Walkers/Gary Lineker campaign was such a successful and long-lived one: it exemplified the core idea that the crisps were so good that they could turn a good guy nasty.

So this Christmas, some ads using stars will be 'turkeys' and others will be 'golden geese'. It all depends on which has a brand idea that is in tune with the times, and the right celebrity to sell it.

NO - Richard Exon, Chief executive, RKCR/Y&R

Whatever the economic mood, Christmas is a time for celebration.

The strongest brands will steer a steady course through the choppy period ahead. Abandoning their core proposition to shout about price promotions is a risky business, especially at Christmas, when people are happy to treat themselves and their families, whatever their budget.

People still want to be entertained, and using relevant and believable celebrities who reflect a brand's personality is a useful shortcut in engaging consumers and getting brand and product messages across.

This year, tone is everything. It has to be relevant and appropriate - splurging on big names just to 'wow' audiences would be financially imprudent, as well as emotionally off-kilter.

Christmas 2008 is about building brand relationships, showcasing excellent-value products without being clumsy, and enjoying all the fun and excitement of the festive season in a way that reflects the general mood of the nation - pretty much what great advertising does every year.

MAYBE - Elizabeth Fagan Marketing director, Boots

It doesn't matter if companies choose to use celebrities or real women in their advertising. What's important is that consumers engage with the message.

When times are tough, you have to stick with what you believe in and, for us, that's our understanding of real women and what matters to them. We know that, however difficult life is, women still want to have fun and feel good at this time of year. We want to demonstrate that we get our customers' mood and how they like to feel.

Last year we showed we understood that, for women, how you look at the office party is far more important than the party itself, while this year we've shown we understand just how much effort women put into getting the right present. The shift in approach for 2008 was a natural progression from last year's 'Here come the girls'. Of course we considered a straight sequel, but we stuck to what we believe in, and looked for an insight that would resonate with how women are feeling this Christmas. Secret Santa was the perfect vehicle to showcase women's natural gift-buying talents.

MAYBE - Andy Nairn, Planning director, MCBD

Celebrities can bring many great things to a campaign - fame, added interest, aspiration and desirability to name a few. This is not going to change overnight, just because we are in a recession.

However, like all executional devices - and that is all they are - celebrities work best when they are amplifying a bigger brand message and helping to accentuate a strong product message.

So if a star is used this Christmas to communicate a deeper human truth, to highlight a fabulous present for one's loved ones, to emphasise a more convenient form of shopping or to champion great value, consumers will continue to show appreciation.

If, on the other hand, a celebrity is used to compensate for a lack of value, in its broadest sense, then it will grate. As ever, it is not the executional trick or size of budget that will separate the winners and losers, but the strength of the underlying idea and message.

- For more discussion, visit marketingmagazine.co.uk

- The Marketing Society is the most influential network of senior marketers dedicated to championing marketing in the UK.


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