Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY
USA TODAY - Quick: Which weight-loss company has featured actress Valerie Bertinelli in its ads?
Or Jennifer Hudson? Or Mariah Carey? Or, ugh, big, bad Charles Barkley?
If you're not sure, you've got plenty of company. That's one major reason why Jenny Craig, which uses Bertinelli, announced that it will feature far fewer celebs going forward and, instead, will roll out a new animated advertising campaign that comes without the big celebrity endorsement fees.
(If you're keeping score, Hudson and Barkley have starred for Weight Watchers and Carey for Jenny Craig.)
At issue: Can consumers remember which highly paid celebs hype which products? Or, even more central: Are celebrity endorsers worth all the dough? According to the folks at Ace Metrix, spokes-celebs may be doing a lot more to help their own bottom lines than the products they hype.
Overall, ads without celebrities rate slightly better with consumers than ads with celebrities, according to a recent study by Ace Metrix, a syndicated ad testing specialist. While the average Ace Metrix score of all celebrity spots in the study was 515, the average score for ads without celebs ranked slightly higher, at 529.
"Celebrities can be very polarizing," explains Peter Daboll, CEO of Ace Metrix. So, if half the consumers love the celeb in a spot - and half hate the star, he says, "you're cutting off half of your potential audience."
Among the most polarizing celebs, he says: Tiger Woods, Kim Kardashian, Justin Bieber and Sarah Jessica Parker.
When clients ask Daboll whether to use a celeb in a spot, he says he offers one word of advice: don't. "A good story always works better than just slapping a celebrity in an ad."
But celebrity broker Noreen Jenny Laffey, president of Celebrity Endorsement Network, says it's not that simple - particularly with weight-loss ad campaigns. "The problem isn't the celebrity," she says, but the fact that celebs in weight-loss ads all pretty much do and say the same thing: I used this product, and I lost weight.
That's not only boring - but also confusing. "It's hard when you have competitive products using celebrities to basically say the same thing," she says. The cola and sneaker giants face these same problems, she notes. "You need to do something totally different that stands out."
Not easy. So Jenny Craig's new marketing chief, Leesa Eichberger, turned to the ad agency Havas Worldwide New York for something different. The new, animated ads will focus on the company's food and its one-on-one support. Gone: all the bright lights, celebrity spokespeople and requisite "before and after" imagery, Eichberger says.
Daboll, the numbers-crunching CEO at Ace Metrix, says it has a decent shot at working - if only because it's not just another overweight celebrity bragging about losing some tonnage. "I'd suggest it's a smart move."