"He's the man with the answers. Alex Trebek is someone I trust."
That's often the first comment from older adults when they call the 800 number at the life insurance company Colonial Penn, galvanized by commercials starring Mr. Trebek, host of "Jeopardy" and the longtime spokesman for the Philadelphia-based firm.
"When people see an ad with Alex," Joel Schwartz, the president of Colonial Penn, said, "our telephone sales representatives report having good, productive conversations. Retirees will explain that they're interested because of how he comes across to them: as knowledgeable and experienced. His endorsement creates an important connection."
Choosing the perfect celebrity spokesman or spokeswoman for cars, coffee machines, soft drinks, shampoo, makeup or cellphone service providers is a tricky business. Marketers and advertising executives consider it a blend of market research, Q-ratings (a measure of celebrity brand appeal) and plain old dumb luck.
But it can't compete with the challenge of coming up with the right big name to pitch products aimed at retirees, who fall outside what television advertisers call the demo, or target demographic, of consumers, ages 25-to-54. After all, when the discussion is life insurance, reverse mortgages or pharmaceuticals, the stakes are higher, the consequences of an imprudent choice greater.
Actors and singers of a certain age tend to be the ones who make the grade, and there seems to be a certain sameness to the products they pitch. Blythe Danner represents Prolia, a drug to combat bone loss; from 2006 to 2010, Sally Field was the spokeswoman for another osteoporosis treatment, Boniva.
The men? They are commonly matched with lenders that sell reverse mortgages, a type of home equity loan (one in which the bank gives you money and takes your house when you die). The list includes Tom Selleck and Fred Thompson (American Advisors Group); the Fonz, Henry Winkler (OneReverseMortgage.com); and Robert Wagner (Senior Lending Network and Urban Financial Group).