A Sprinkle of Stardust: The Genius Behind Celebrity Car Commercials

Carlos Kirby
· 4 min read
Whether you've cut the cord or still watch traditional cable, chances are you've seen some celebrities in car commercials. It's no secret that carmakers and insurance companies rely heavily on advertising, perhaps more frequently now than in prior years.
As such, all advertising agencies have had to adapt through different strategies to maximize return on investment. The age-old strategy of casting iconic stars in car commercials is proving to be increasingly lucrative, both for carmakers and celebrities.
Celebrity car commercials have a powerful influence over consumers.

The arms race for celebrities in car commercials

The demand for celebrities in car commercials has become quite competitive in the past few years. In a sense, both carmakers and celebrities are brands and both want to keep that brand protected. There's more going on than just an exchange of money to have some lines read.
Take for example, Matthew McConaughey's iconic commercials for Lincoln. Probably no other actor could have made those commercials work.
Unless they already had a persona of an elegant, Texas hippy who likes reciting poetry while ice fishing. Matching the right celebrity with the messaging of the commercial is a difficult business.
One celebrity-filled car commercial that did well is known as Volkswagen: The Accountant, which aired during the 2020 Super Bowl.
It stars Paul Giamatti as an anxiety-riddled celebrity accountant and Kieran Culkin as a reckless spending celebrity. Giamatti is nervous to learn that his client just purchased a new car, until he discovers it is a reasonably priced Volkswagen.
This adds to the brand awareness that Volkswagens are great value cars. At the same time, Giamatti and Culkin are pretty much playing the same characters that they do in their respective shows, Billions and Succession.
The reprise of these characters for the commercial reminds the audience of the skill these two actors have. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that these commercials are not only advertisements for the car, but also for the celebrity.
Having said that, there are three main types of celebrity deals for car commercials.
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The three types of celebrity partnerships

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Paycheck One-Off. These tend to be more common for Super Bowl commercials. The celebrity won't be in recurring ads. Instead, it will just be one grand advertisement that will only be aired in front of a mass audience. Think Hyundai's "Smart Park" commercial that hosted several Boston accented celebrities.
Spokesperson. This one is difficult to do, but can work. Much like the aforementioned McConaughey-Lincoln commercials. Often, long-running celebrity spokespeople tend to lose their zeal. A case and point example is Tiger Woods and Buick. It got to the point where the audience became critically aware that Woods wouldn't drive a Buick in real life.
Limited Edition. These aren't too common with cars, but that's about to change. Keep an eye out for Kate Hudson in Infiniti commercials and Brie Larson in Volkswagen commercials, as reported by
Fast Company
. These ad campaigns tend to feature multiple commercials with the celebrity, but for a limited time. They are often used to launch a new brand or a model redesign, as is the case with the Hudson and the Infiniti QX60.

Do celebrity car commercials work?

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That would be a hard yes. A Harvard Business School professor did deeper analytics to find how well they work. She found that a celebrity endorsement can raise sales by 4% and stock value by 0.25% vs their competitors, as reported by
Farris Marketing
. For automotive giants, 4% can mean billions of dollars. Perhaps the celebrities should be asking for higher payouts.
Whether you drive a Lincoln like McConaughey or an Infiniti like Hudson,
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