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Do Celebrity Endorsements Really Work?

When I interviewed Eric Wisemen, CEO of VF Corp, at the ICR Xchange retail conference in Orange County, I asked him if it was difficult for one of his company's brands, Wrangler, to stand by Brett Favre after the football legend's sexting scandal.

"Brett's been terrific for our brand for a long period of time. He speaks to the Wrangler consumer," Wiseman told me, before adding, "We're obviously figuring out where to go from here."

(You can watch the full interview here.)

He might want to read a study by Ace Metrix which suggests that celebrity endorsements can do more harm than good.

"Our study of more than 2,600 ads found that—contrary to popular wisdom—celebrity ads do not perform any better than non-celebrity ads, and in some cases they perform much worse," the report state.

This news could save corporate America a lot of marketing money.

Tiger Woods
Getty Images
Tiger Woods

The worst performing celebrity ad last year—no surprise—was the Tiger Woods commercial for Nike, the one where Woods is staring into the camera as you hear the voice of his father . Nobody liked it, regardless of gender or age.

Coming in second, Lance Armstrong's ad for Radio Shack called "No Emoticons" (um, Radio Shack is never mentioned), followed by Kenny Mayne for Gillette , Dale Earnhardt Jr., for Nationwide Auto Insurance , and Donald Trump's ad for Macy's called "Making Timmy a Mogul". ?

Some celebrity ads do work.

"Across the board, the celebrity with the best performance was Oprah Winfrey," says Ace Metrix. But Oprah did not appear in any commercials to push products. Instead, she was part of public service announcements against texting while driving . For pure advertising, some ads which scored well involved celebrities used in the right context: Troy Polamalu for Head & Shoulders,Betty White and Aretha Franklin for Snickers, Carl Weathers for Bud Light (does anyone under 40 remember Apollo Creed? Does Weathers still qualify as a celebrity?).

Most of the time, however, Ace Metrix says celebrity ads scored worse with viewers than ads for the same products without celebrities—on average 9 points lower. Even extremely popular celebrities—like Peyton Manning getting on Jim Nantz's case for lack of production in an ad for Sony—scored below average with viewers. So did Beyonce being ignored by the guy who prefers watching her on his Vizio set.

No wonder she walks off upset.

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