In the advertising world, the adage says, "Sex Sells."
An ad that includes an attractive face makes men and women spend more time perusing it. Voices with an underlying sensual quality make people listen more attentively. Long, rippling, shiny tresses sell not only shampoo, but shoes, cars and condoms. We know that sex, even when used in a most subtle way, is universally appealing to (adult) humans. So why then has Boston Pizza adopted a decidedly unsexy sasquatchesque spokescreature?
Some companies opt for representatives to help them build and reinforce a brand. Celebrities will lend their image to a company or product for a price.
The company essentially buys the reputation and powers of persuasion of that person. Tiger Woods is credible and respected, so his endorsement is a guarantee to buyers that the company and product share his reputation.
|Photo courtesy of Boston Pizza|
|Louie the Sasquatch is giving Boston Pizza a marketing bounce.|
Using celebrities to build and reinforce a brand can be risky, though. What if Miss Clairol had hired Miss Britney Spears to promote its newest hair colour? What a MissTake that would have been!
Spokespeople are often celebrities, but not always. Sometimes unknowns like the ferocious "Where's the Beef?" granny are used to great effect. Think of the ING Euro-ish guy, and the faux Swedish voice with the quirky personality behind Ikea.
Unknowns before they became spokespeople for these brands, they certainly aren't now. Wouldn't you recognize these voices anywhere and make the connection?
So, spokespeople can have a powerfully positive effect on brand recognition and subsequent consumer buying trends. Is it the same for spokescharacters?
I talked with Joanne Forrester, vice-president of marketing, corporate services for Boston Pizza International Inc., about Louie, the new sasquatch on the payroll.
I asked why a character was chosen over a person when, in the past, Boston Pizza has used celebrities including Howie Mandel.
She cited "cost, flexibility and versatility" as the main reasons. I suppose that deal-making chrome domes are very expensive, not readily available and certainly don't have the "fun, fresh" attraction of a six-foot-11 gentle giant.
Louie is designed to appeal to Boston Pizza's target market - adults 25 to 54 (families), and the sportsbar set, 18 to 30. I can see why children think he is "cute" and "lovable" - his naivete seems innocent and childlike - a big kid with a lot to learn. Louie is in training, so is seen in commercials with a fellow employee who introduces him to the restaurant, and viewers to the "You're Among Friends" brand platform.
For universal appeal, Louie will evolve as a multidimensional character.
His commercials are on YouTube.com and he has his own blog (www.talldarkandhungry.com).
Over the longer term, he may become involved in video gaming and the Boston Pizza kids' program. I can imagine Louie-approved menu choices, colouring books and T-shirts, and, eventually, late-show interviews with Letterman or Leno.
Response to Louie has been positive so far, says Forrester. Kids and adults alike seem to think that a sasquatch makes a fine spokescreature. Louie is endearing!
Of course, Louie is not the only non-human to actively promote a company these days. Frank and Gordon, Bell's animated beavers, have been pushing products and services in a big way for many months.
They have developed personalities and individual voices. As a team, they are amusing, which is a good thing because we see them everywhere from billboards and television to print. Bell is heavily banking on their popularity and ability to carry a strong message.
Both Boston Pizza and Bell knew their characters would be liked by Canadians. They weren't about to spend scads of cash to develop and launch advertising campaigns costing millions more unless they were sure that the premise of a spokescharacter - and their specific choices - would receive a positive response.
It cost them plenty to research and test their market prior to sending Louie, Frank and Gordon out into the world, but not nearly as much as it would have if they hadn't tested and the guys had been badly received. "Back to the drawing board" was not an option.
So how can smaller businesses use a spokesperson/ creature/character when costs are so high?
The answer is to think local or regional rather than national like Bell and Boston Pizza. Invite a local celebrity, such as a champion skateboarder or snowboarder, to come into your sporting goods shop to answer questions.
Then advertise his/her appearance to your local market.
Flyers, radio, ads in local papers or handing out invitations where kids congregate (hire another kid for this) will generate some attention.
Invite media outlets - if it is a slow news day, they might cover your story. Your local celebrity becomes your spokesperson for a day. He/she may take payment in goods from your store, which makes everyone a winner.
And don't forget that to get, you have to give. Sponsoring a kids' sports team, supporting your town's associations (police, firefighters, garden club, etc.) with ads, contributions or services makes your company a good citizen, which is always a good idea.
It works on many levels to increase awareness, gather goodwill and will be reciprocated in many ways. And let's face it, lots of people would rather watch a cute little kid running around with a soccer ball and your company's name on his/her shirt than listen to a beaver talk about long-distance calling. Sometimes your spokesperson can be six years old. And highly effective.
You can also be your own celebrity. Some business owners, usually those with engaging personalities, become their own spokesperson. Think of Christine Magee, president and co-founder of Sleep Country Canada. Her voice and name are strongly associated with the company - a real asset because she'll never have to hire a sasquatch. And she has more sex appeal, anyway.
(Brenda McMillan can be reached at email@example.com)