STUDY: CEOs Might Make The Best Ad Spokespeople

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When the time comes for an advertiser to roll out a new marketing campaign, agencies usually aren’t chomping at the bit to get the company’s CEO to be the ad’s front-man or woman.”There’s just this universal panic,” said Peter Daboll, CEO of ad tracking company Ace Metrix. “It’s almost akin to deciding whether you’re going to put your client on the stand in a criminal trial.”

Click here to see the numbers that prove why CEOs can make the best ad spokespeople>>
Hardly as endearing as the T-Mobile girl or talented as, say, Justin Bieber, CEOs are feared to come off as dry or isolating; and if the ad flops, then the credibility of the CEO can be compromised as well.

But a new study from Ace Metrix shows that ads featuring CEOs actually outperform ads that do not feature CEOs.

“In fact, celebrity ads are more polarising than CEO ads,” Daboll told Business Insider. “If Justin Bieber is in an ad, half the population loves him and the other half of the population hates him. It looks like if you’re the CEO, there’s still some respect.”

Looking at ads that aired from January 2009 on, Ace Metrix has amassed 13,000 commercials, and 76 of those ads featured CEOs from 12 different brands.

When Ace Metrix analysed data of 500 respondents evaluating the effectiveness of an ad (from entertainment, to desire, to relevance), the CEO ads scored higher on the 950 Ace Metrix Score than other ads in their category. (An average score is 535).

This was even the case for Boston Beer Company. While beer commercials are famous for featuring busty models or adolescent humour, Sam Adams and Sam Adams Light ads always feature their CEO, Jim Koch, and perform incredibly well.

Of course plopping a CEO in the middle of a commercial does not guarantee success.

Daboll believes that Bush’s Baked Beans ads failed because the CEO hopelessly tried to be slapstick with a talking dog… “and you saw the Super Bowl, usually talking dogs do well!”

“It’s almost like the CEO is the President,” Daboll continued. “You don’t want to see the President of the United States in some slapstick sitcom.”

Other helpful hints: Test that the CEO doesn’t appear nervous/shifty and make sure there’s a reason for him or her to be in the commercial. Scottrade, for example, featured its CEO flying a helicopter at the end of some of its commercials, and this random fly-by-night cameo did not impress viewers. (It also might have reinforced some negative CEO stereotypes).

But in spite of potential pitfalls, the numbers show that CEOs can increase an ad’s effectiveness significantly.

Out of 13,000 ads that aired since January 2009, 76 of those spots featured a CEO. Across every metric, ads with a CEO outperformed ads that did not. This held for all genders and age groups.

Having a CEO star in an ad isn't a new concept. Who didn't love Dave Thomas, Wendy's CEO?

This graph shows how CEO commercials scored with viewers. While most of the ads scored above the 535 average, not all of them were winners.

The lowest scoring ad starring a CEO: KFC.

This graph shows the frequency of CEO versus normal ads by brands. While some brands choose to diversify their advertising campaigns, others fully commit to having a CEO as a front-person. All 10 Sam Adams/Sam Adams Light ads starred their CEO, Jim Koch, and 47 Papa John's ads featured CEO John Schnatter. (Seven did not.)

Here's Boston Beer Company CEO, Jim Koch.

And here's Papa John's CEO, John Schnatter.

Now, what makes for an effective magazine ad?

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