Montreal View: Use of celebrities worth the risk

Marketers everywhere realize the potential perils and horrors involved in using film and television actors or other celebrities in their advertising campaigns.The latest freak shows in the u.s. involving current and former athletes bears this out.Observers may wonder why, after all...

Marketers everywhere realize the potential perils and horrors involved in using film and television actors or other celebrities in their advertising campaigns.

The latest freak shows in the u.s. involving current and former athletes bears this out.

Observers may wonder why, after all these incidents, marketers still look to the aura of the celebrity to help boost their sales.

The answer is simple. It works.

That in spite of all the potential pr mud and living hell a celebrity-gone-berserk can drag you through, the potential advantages seriously outweigh the disadvantages.

The reason is, nothing in business and selling comes anywhere close to matching the sexiness and provocativeness of celebrities, particularly when they’re used to help sell products whose differentiating features are minimal or non-existent.

No other selling argument appears to be as interesting to most people than the testimony of some famous hockey player who says he rents his cars from your car rental company. People appear to believe it.

Nothing compares to the glamor of the celebrity endorsement.

Look at all the press Sprint, the long distance re-seller, has been able to milk off this Candice Bergen thing.

It’s been an avalanche of column inches because people, including journalists, really like Murphy Brown, the tv show (coincidentally, about journalists) featuring Bergen.

The incredible results created by campaigns like these allow marketers to comfortably face the risks.

This is one of the reasons Pepsi has been using Quebec comedian and tv actor, Claude Meunier, in its tv commercials for ten years now.

As a Quebecer, it’s hard to think about Pepsi without thinking about the wacko Meunier in one of his goofy commercials.

Meunier plays your perfect French-speaking Quebecois twit.

He’s an absurdist goof, a very physical comedian who plays his ‘Sylvian Saguenay’ character with one eye perpetually closed, with his tongue poking out of his mouth at sporadic intervals and his head moving jerkily.

‘He is a very nervous guy who is trying to relax,’ says Robert Thibaudeau, creative director at Blouin Coulombe Dube Thompson. ‘That’s why he drinks Pepsi to become cool, to calm down.’

Thibaudeau created the character with Richard Constantineau, now creative director at Bleu Blanc Rouge and a regular fixture in this column.

He estimates they’ve done about 40 spots with Meunier during that time.

‘Meunier’s character has evolved,’ Thibaudeau says. ‘He started out as a ladies’ man and evolved into his current role of `adventurer.”

The adventurer role started with a spoof the agency did on those cornball margarine commercials in which very clean-cut, wholesome-looking people reflect on how they’ve cleaned up their act (former barflies?)

The commercials always featured the narrator/reformed person eating margarine somewhere in the wild (but not too wild), reflecting on what a changed human being he or she had become.

The Pepsi spoof had Meunier climbing an insanely steep rockface discussing how Pepsi and the outdoors had transformed his life for the better.

This theme is continued in the latest spot which shows him again in a contemplative mood in Tibet.

‘We were looking for new places for Sylvain to visit and this seemed like the place for the ultimate high, physically and spiritually,’ said Thibaudeau.

In the temple, Sylvain is sitting cross-legged meditating and levitating with his fellow monks.

Once again he states his self-discoveries with his audience — that he has found an inner peace and new way to look at the world, thanks to Pepsi and a good mantra.

Yet, in spite of his elevated state, he remains petty and competitive, bothered by the other monks around him who are levitating higher than he is.

He chugs his Pepsi for more levitating power and finally, with a recoiling of his fist and forearm like the hockey players do when they score, he blasts through the ceiling.

With his head sticking out of the floor, he says, ‘It’s a good thing I didn’t jump into a bowling alley.’

Meunier is so important to the commercials and is so implicated in their execution that he is given credit as a co-concepteur/writer.

Thibaudeau says that a year or two after the campaign began running, Pepsi overtook Coke as the top-selling soft drink in Quebec.

Further evidence that the potential advantages of using a celebrity in your advertising seriously outweigh the disadvantages.

Michael Judson is president of Judson Woods, a full service advertising and public relations company in Montreal.