Celebrities Sell Out But Only in Japan

Many American celebrities make huge sums of money endorsing products and serving as advertising spokes-people. Other big stars won't appear in ads because they don't want fans to think they've sold out. But many celebrities who resist the temptation to cash in on their fame in the United States are only too happy to appear in ads in foreign countries. And nowhere are ads starring American celebrities more prevalent than in Japan. Even the rich and famous have trouble saying no to Japanese advertisers who will pay them between $1 million and $3 million for a few hours' work to make 15- to 30-second spots that their Western fans across the Pacific will never see.

Megastars like Meg Ryan, Brad Pitt, Demi Moore, and Harrison Ford are paid millions for appearing in Japanese commercials. Ryan endorses cosmetics and tea, Pitt appears in ads for canned coffee and blue jeans, while Demi Moore hawks protein drinks. Ford received several million dollars for appearing sweaty and bare-chested in Kirin beer commercials and print ads. Sometimes celebrities are forced to change their images or personalities to suit the advertising style of Japanese companies and the tastes of audiences in Japan. Japanese commercials have a totally different feel than those in the United States and Europe and have often been described as "tacky" or "cheesy" by Western standards. For example, one ad showed actor Dennis Hopper sitting in a tub with a rubber ducky to promote a brand of shampoo and body wash.

There are several reasons why Japanese companies are willing to shell out huge sums of money for these

stars. Many Japanese are fascinated by American culture and its celebrities, and endorsement of a brand by a star gives it a certain international cachet. Also, Japanese advertising emphasizes style and mood rather than substance; consumers expect to be entertained, rather than bored by product information or testimonials. Because most Japanese commercials last only 15 seconds, advertisers feel that an instantly recognizable Western celebrity who can capture viewers' attention is well worth the money. Some movie studios encourage celebrities to do ads in Japan because it boosts their visibility and helps the marketing of their films in Japan and other Asian countries. Advertising campaigns featuring U.S. celebrities often coincide with the release of their films in Asia.

While many celebrities are cashing in on endorsement deals in Japan, they still try to protect their image at home. The stars commonly have nondisclosure clauses in their contracts, specifying that the ads cannot be shown—or sometimes even discussed (oops!)— outside Japan. However, with the growth of the Internet, stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger may have to say hasta la vista to keeping their endorsements secret and preventing people back home from seeing the Japanese ads. A small Canadian web company, Zero One Design, is dedicated to showing U.S. celebrities pitching products in Japan at www.gaijinagogo.com. Recently, several celebrities, including Schwarzenegger and Leonardo DiCaprio, threatened legal action against the site for showing their commercials, arguing that it infringed on the star's intellectual-property rights. Ironically, the site went from about 500 hits a month to nearly 4 million in the two weeks following the publicity surrounding the controversy over the posting of the commercial Schwarzenegger made for DirecTV in Japan. Other websites, such as www.klein-dytham.com, also provide examples of U.S. celebrities who appear in commercials in Japan but would not be caught dead endorsing products back home. Celebrities are used to getting their way, and most want knowledge of their Japanese endorsements to stay across the Pacific. Sorry about that.

Sources: Debra Lau,"Movie Stars Moonlight in Japan," Forbes.com, Mar. 14,2001; Kim Lunman,"Arnold Terminates Site Leaking Foreign TV Ad," Globetechnology.com, Aug. 11,2000; Stephen Rae, "How Celebrities Make Killings on Commercials," Cosmopolitan, January 1997, pp. 14, 67.

credible, even though they are often presenting stories that stem from press releases. In some situations celebrities may appear on news programs or talk shows and promote an upcoming cause or event such as the release of a new movie or music CD. With the increase in stealth marketing techniques, many consumers are becoming wary of endorsements made by celebrities on news programs and talk shows. For example, a New York Times article revealed that drug companies were making payments to celebrities or their favorite charities in return for the celebrities' touting the companies' pharmaceutical products on news and talk shows. As a result of the controversy from the article, CNN and the major broadcast networks announced that they would disclose any such financial deals during an interview.6

Using Corporate Leaders as Spokespeople Another way of enhancing source credibility is to use the company president or chief executive officer as a spokesperson in the firm's advertising. Many companies believe the use of their president or CEO is the ultimate expression of the company's commitment to quality and customer service. In some cases, these ads have not only increased sales but also helped turn the company leaders into celebrities.7 Lee Iacocca appeared in more than 60 commercials for Chrysler Corp. and became a national business hero for guiding the successful turnaround of the company. One of the most popular corporate spokespersons ever was Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy's fast-food restaurants. Thomas appeared in more than 800 ads for Wendy's, which is a Guinness record for the longest-running campaign by a company founder, between 1989 and early 2002 when he passed away8 (Exhibit 6-3). Other well-known corporate leaders who sometimes appear in ads for their companies include Dell computer founder and CEO Michael Dell, Gateway founder Ted Wait, and Charles Schwab, who founded the investment company that bears his name. The practice of using company founders, owners, and presidents as advertising spokespersons is particularly prevalent among small and mid-size companies such as retailers and auto dealers serving local markets. For these companies, the decision to have the owner or president become a quasi actor has to do with advertising budgets too small to accommodate professional actors or announcers, who may charge thousands of dollars to tape a few commercials.

Many marketing and advertising experts question the strategy of using company presidents or owners in ads and note that it is often ego rather than logic that results in their use.9 The experts suggest that businesspeople should get in front of the camera only if they exude credibility and possess the intangible quality of provoking a warm, fuzzy feeling in viewers. They also note that CEO spokespeople who become very popular may get more attention than their company's product/service or advertising message. And if a firm's image becomes too closely tied to a popular leader, there can be problems if that person leaves the company.

Major corporations are likely to continue to use their top executives in their advertising, particularly when they have celebrity value that helps enhance the firm's image. Some research suggests the use of a company president or CEO can improve attitudes and increase the likelihood that consumers will inquire about a company's product or service.10 Defenders of the practice argue that the use of top executives or business owners in ads is an effective way of projecting an image of trust and honesty and, more importantly, the idea that the company isn't run by some faceless corporate monolith. As one expert notes: "These guys come into people's living rooms every night and, over the course of weeks and years, become like members of the family. It gets to the point that when you think of a certain product category, you think of the guy you see all the time on TV."11

Limitations of Credible Sources Several studies have shown that a high-credibility source is not always an asset, nor is a low-credibility source always a liability. High- and low-credibility sources are equally effective when they are arguing for a position

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  • klaudia
    Is that leonardo dicaprio in the dell computer free shipping commercials?
    4 years ago

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