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The Self-Aware Endorser: When Endorsers Make Fun of Endorsements

The Self-Aware Endorser: When Endorsers Make Fun of Endorsements

6 minute read

  • Brands will continually look for new and differentiated ways to leverage endorsers; one differentiated way is the “self-aware” endorser
  • Self-aware endorsers tend to satirize the status of a paid endorser and acknowledge their role as a spokesperson in the brand’s advertising in a tongue-in-cheek way
  • Self-aware endorsers are particularly effective when they are comedians. An authentic messenger is just as important as the message itself

A celebrity endorsement is a common tactic leveraged by brands in their marketing initiatives. The prevalence of celebrity endorsements in marketing means that brands are constantly searching for unique ways to leverage their spokespeople. One trending tactic is the use of the “self-aware endorser” - the celebrity who, while representing a brand, acknowledges (and often parodies) their role as a paid endorser. By using self-deprecating humour, the self-aware endorser stands out with consumers, humanizes the brand and demonstrates transparency. Norwegian Bank, Nordnet AB used this tactic with an actor in a 2014 brand campaign in an effort to be transparent with their financial services clients:

Brands have followed suit by leveraging a similar narrative with their endorsers.

Examples of Self-Aware Endorsers

Ricky Gervais & Optus - Comedian Rickey Gervais is a spokesperson for Australian telecom company Optus, and has appeared in multiple commercials. Each spot that Gervais has done highlights the little effort he puts into his appearances. The spots have Gervais emphasize the money he is making as an endorser and little time is spent on promoting any product or features of Optus. Gervais’ most successful spot became the fastest Australian video to reach 4 million views on Facebook and was the second most viewed video on YouTube in Australia and New Zealand during 2015, giving Optus a 165% lift in internet searches. The ad leveraged Gervais’ sarcastic humour, giving the ad a more authentic feel. 

Patrick Stewart & Strongbow - Cider brand Strongbow created a series of commercials with actor Patrick Stewart, in which the actor only appears for a brief moment for comedic effect. The commercial spot suggests that Strongbow doesn’t need the help of a celebrity endorser to sell its product and “fires” Stewart before he gets to say his scripted lines. The self-mocking and minimal use of Patrick Stewart is unexpected, helping the commercial stand out among its competitors. Strongbow tacitly displays a level of confidence in its own product by claiming that the product is so good, it speaks for itself (and doesn’t need a celebrity to speak for it). 

Anna Kendrick & Newcastle - Newcastle Brown Ale created a promotional spot which featured actress Anna Kendrick discussing that she was “supposed” to be in a Super Bowl commercial for Newcastle before they cancelled due to budgetary constraints. In the commercial, Kendrick comments on the money she was supposed to receive. Kendrick continues to comment sarcastically about wanting to get paid for a beer that she doesn’t even drink. The ad was well received online, gaining 5 million views and was featured in over 600 news stories.

Mike Myers & Sears - As Canadians’ shopping habits have evolved, big box stores like Sears have faced challenges. Sears have been forced to close locations and in a 2014 commercial, Sears had comedian Mike Myers appear to speak candidly about the struggling retailer. Sears leveraged the satirical humour of Myers to comment on their shifting business model and his own appearance in the commercial. Sears was historically a more traditional brand that leaned on more straightforward advertising and their shift to humour was a noticeable change in their messaging. Sears was able to do this authentically with the help of Myers’ humour. 

Benefits of the Self-Aware Endorser

Provides Breakthrough – Ad campaigns frequently rely on paid endorsers, creating an overwhelming volume of advertising messages in which the average consumer must face on a daily basis. As a result, the New Yorker cites that anywhere between ten to twenty percent of audiences are either actively or passively avoiding ads. Fortunately, a self-aware endorser can help a brand stand out by deploying an untraditional narrative. Usually highlighted by the endorser breaking the fourth wall and making jokes at their own expense, or at the expense of the brand, the self-aware endorser can stand out amongst the clutter in order for a consumer to take notice. This can also create a more engaging commercial for consumers. In a study done at the University of Kentucky, researchers found that audiences were more engaged and entertained when shown clips that broke the fourth wall.

Humanizes the Brand – Advertising is more than the ability to sell/pitch a product or service. It is an opportunity to build a relationship with consumers. This is especially true among millennials. According to a recent study by the McCarthy Group, millennials ranked traditional advertising as the least trustworthy source of information. Fortunately, leveraging a self-aware endorser provides a noticeable shift in tone from traditional advertising. Through self-deprecation, self-aware endorsements no longer feel like a sales pitch, instead providing a lighter tone in order to disarm the consumer. This shift makes the brand feel less like a corporation, and gives it more personality. Researchers at Queen's discovered that the use of self-deprecating humour establishes trust and engages the audience. However, when used too much, it can show lack of confidence. This means brands can find value in leveraging a self-aware endorser, but must ensure that it is not used too frequently or it could risk losing its effect.

Demonstrates Confidence in the Product – Just like people, brands need to be confident in order to appeal to consumers. Self-deprecating humour is typically employed by well-established brands, or brands which are confident in their ability to meet the needs of consumers. When leveraging a self-aware endorser you are not spending much time on the product benefits, instead more time is spent on the humour of the commercial. This can position the product as something that can speak for itself, and it does not need a commercial dedicated to its benefits.

How to Ensure Success

Select the Right Endorser - The success of the self-aware endorser relies heavily on the endorser themselves. In most examples, it is beneficial if the endorser is an actor which will allow them to communicate the sarcasm of the commercial more effectively. Australian telecom company Optus leveraged Ricky Gervais who is already well known for his sarcasm and comedy, making it more believable that the commercial is tongue in cheek. If an endorser was used that was not known for their comedy or could not translate the comedic nature of the commercial, the spot may not be successful.

As the endorser strategy has been leveraged by a wide variety of brands, the self-aware endorser has provided brands with an alternative tactic. The self-aware endorser can help a brand stand out amongst the clutter. However, it should be noted that additional marketing initiatives are likely needed. This tactic does not offer consumers much information on the product, instead it communicates the attributes of the brand. While the tactic may not work for all brands, with the right product, strategy, and endorser, it can provide a valuable lift for the brand.

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