Christopher Walken & Other Celebrities: Storyboard Your Endorsements

You’ve got a celebrity or actor lined up to give you an endorsement or testimonial. If you and they do this often, you’re probably old hands at it. It not, and you leave out key elements, you could end up with a nice testimonial that isn’t nearly as useful as you hoped.

Maybe you’ve got a director, script, and a storyline. Perhaps you want it to be authentic and raw, not scripted and rehearsed. The star might want to write their own version. Regardless of how you “storyboard” it, a compelling endorsement has some key ingredients, precisely because it is a story.

Create the “Normal” for the Story

In its simplest form, use the first few seconds to show ‘life as usual’ for the person giving the testimonial. If they’re a homeowner, maybe they’re finishing up trimming a hedge. A football icon might be throwing a ball or putting gear away in a locker. If it’s a concert cellist, we might cut in to her playing a few notes – even better if surrounded by an orchestra. The goal is to situate the person in a context that lends credibility to what they’re saying. Keep in mind, it can be real, surreal, or imagined . . .

The Real: When we see Orson Welles listening to Beethoven in what appears to be his study,  we believe he’s being authentic–this is who he is. When he endorses Paul Masson, you can imagine that he actually does drink the wine.

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The Imagined: Bill Cosby is “Dad” sharing a snack with the kids, which is certainly consistent with the image Cosby had in 1982. This was the ‘normal’ we expected from him, and so we accepted it as closer to true.

The Surreal: Even an entirely fictional setting must convey the internal reality of the product statement. Nicole Kidman does not live in the bodice ripper ‘reality’ her Chanel commercial implies but, once the setting is in place, she drops right into it. The narrative is cohesive, because we start with the man’s voice and woman’s body making poetry together.

Help Us Recognize the Celebrity

It can be as simple as the person saying who they are–especially if we might not recognize them otherwise. If you do that, keep it brief, with one or two biographical points to establish their authority or our interest: “I’m Rooney Mara. You may have seen me in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” “I’m Jim Smith, a college football coach and father of four.” The handshake is complete, and we have a one-line bio to understand this is a real person.

Marry the Product: Ed McMahon’s American Family Publishers commercial has him saying his name, because his name has cachet–so much that he points out his own image on the product. That level of close identification is most appropriate when the celebrity has universal gravitas. If you had a Paul Newman or Walter Cronkite, it’s worth considering.

Context Shift: Britney Spears might be instantly recognizable on stage, so her Pepsi commercial has her singing at a 1950s soda fountain. Just to make sure we get it, the ad turns at the mid-point to a typical Spears stage act. Recognition is paramount.

Making us Guess: It doesn’t have to be un-subtle. Michael Jordon’s identity is a small riddle at the start of his “Maybe It’s My Fault” Nike commercial. You can just hear his name shouted quickly from the living room sofa. It’s the absence that actually underscores the ‘who I am and what I do’ part.

Our favorite celebrity identification is the unforgettable “Walken Closet” of Christopher Walken’s 2016 Super Bowl Kia ad:

Qantas Assure does something very similar with Walken: “Christopher Walken… Christopher Runnin’…. Christopher Boxin’… Christopher Dancin’…” Bai (the beverage brand) does emphasizes its brand name in another Walken commercial for Super Bowl 2017. We begin to see that perhaps Walken is the key to everything. Walken established his pedigree for awesome in the ad space as well as his amazing dance chops (previously seen in the 1981 Steve Martin musical Pennies from Heaven) in a music video, circa 2001–Weapon of Choice by Fatboy Slim.

Show Us Their Special Knowledge

If Bill Cosby had endorsed Muscle Milk instead of Jello Pudding, we’d wonder why. Establish authority: You might have to draw a connection with words. If Mark Wahlberg were endorsing a lie detector: “I know when someone is acting.” This is where you don’t necessarily NEED a celebrity. Imagine an air traffic controller endorsing an office multi-tasking tool: “I’m used to paying attention to several things at once.” Similarly, you can just have an actor play a related role. An apparent truck driver might endorse BC Powder for headaches: “I travel a lot, in my line of work.” or “Stress is a normal part of my job.”

Tell Us a Story: Conor, a fighter in Dublin, shows us how Beats by Dre (headphones) helps him get on his game face. Is Conor real? We leave that to the commenters on YouTube to wrestle over.

Make it Fantasy: It’s fantasy anyway, and the audience knows it. So, consider going all the way. Dr. Dre’s own HP Envy Commercial has him in a high tech, sci-fi manufacturing environment, just to get his groove on. The special knowledge of the main character is still conveyed.

Our favorite is a campaign series of ads for Jack & Jones clothing featuring Christopher Walken and the slogan “Made From Cool”. The association of Walken with ‘cool’ is on point throughout the campaign, driven home most notably when he sheers a sheep with his bare hand.

Solve a Clear Problem

It might be obvious, but how many amateur testimonials on Yelp or Amazon, clearly written by employees or first time paid shills, leave out the pain points and hurdles. We need to know what problem the service or product solves. In the story, what has happened that needs fixing, and what change are we trying to reach? “My health was deteriorating, and I wanted to still be there when my kids graduated college.” “I needed more energy late in the day when, traditionally, fatigue would set in.” “I kept building wooden decks but, after 10-11 months, they were already fading and chipping in the sun.” An endorsement without a credible application to a problem or need isn’t believable.

It Can Be Simple: William Shatner’s Priceline commercial has him saying, “my travel arrangements were freaking me out.” What more do we need? He’s THE recognized spokesman for the brand. He’s got a track record of self-deprecating humor. And he’s rapping (more or less). We know where he’s going with it. So let’s say the obvious–I need my keep calm about my travel.

Acknowledge Alternatives or Objections

Indirectly acknowledge that there are other solutions to the problem or ways of approaching the project (but they’re not as good). Alternately, answer a key concern that holds people back from buying: “I chose Acme, because everyone else had a list of additional fees. Acme just had ONE fee.” Or, for example: “At first, I was concerned about prepaying. Then I looked at how competitors were nickel and diming me…” We can’t gloss over what people are really thinking. Call out the elephant in the room. Whoever deals with emperor’s missing clothes, wins our confidence.

Product Proxy: Catherine Zeta-Jones’ T-Mobile ads said you need a “mobile makeover”. That’s all you need–the competition sucks. They’re charging you too much for too little. You don’t like them, but you do like me–Catherine. And we do like her. She’s sexy; your cell phone carrier isn’t. She’s right there on the doorstep, and we don’t send her away.

Underscore the Specific Change

Get as specific as possible about what the brand has done for them – no generalities. It’s fluffy and vague to say, “They really took care of me.” Better is: “I had all the energy I needed” (imagine a protein bar endorsement). You want to show your process or be tangible: “They paired me with a fitness counsellor who measured 23 different health factors and worked with me to plan a diet I love that also fit my energy and health goals.” Saying what happened precisely, even if it’s going to be different for different clients, is better than being so broad that people don’t hear any specific value.

Brass Tacks: Alec Baldwin’s Capital One Venture Card commercial gets really specific. You’re getting the short end of the stick on airline miles. Venture Card fixes that by opening up black out dates, etc…

Mileage may vary from client to client. That’s why you’re telling one particular story. The idea is to get as close as possible to how a particular person was impacted. “I’m able to rehearse and perform in the same day, and not run out of steam for the big finale.” “I don’t even carry my bags downstairs, anymore. TravelMe sends up a porter, whisks me away to the airport, and drops my boarding pass in my hand at security.”

Say it Plainly: “Inner beauty is important, but not nearly as important as outer beauty.” That’s Ellen Degeneres in her Cover Girl commercial. Beauty is a perfect example of different results for different people. It’s ‘look YOUR  best’ not ‘look THE best’.

Plan Specific Uses

Ask yourself where and how you’re going to use the testimonial, endorsement, or ad. If you put all your thought into making it, and not how it’ll be used, it’ll seem like you just slapped it onto a landing page or into a social venue. It won’t feel real, organic, or like it belongs – then all that credibility you storyboarded is lost. If you’re going to use it in an e-mail campaign, what is the key message of that campaign? If the e-mail campaign will be about getting old and slowing metabolism, reiterate that in the endorsement: Example: “As we get older, we’re plagued by energy loss. Don’t give in to a slow metabolism.” When you add your testimonial video to the campaign, it will drop smoothly into place.

Don’t Forget the CTA

What do you want the viewer to do? As with everything, the more specific your call to action, the better. If you want them to contact you, how? Call? If so, what’s the number? If you want them to call 555-1212, what should they call about? Elaborate the call to action down to its most tangible elements: “Contact TravelMe at 555-1212 for a 3-minute travel readiness evaluation…” Another example might be: “Go to lowmetabolism.whatever on your phone, and put in coupon code 55512 for 35% off a three months supply.” The elements are a specific action and the person knows *why* they’re doing it that way.

Give Us One Memorable, Quotable Declaration

Think about crossing mediums. You’ve got a video, but you might want to quote it in social media or another format. So, get something quotable. The simplest way is to have the speaker sum up the gist of the video in one, pithy, memorable comment. Examples could include: “TravelMe shaves a couple of hours from every journey. It takes the stress out of travel and gives me my life back.” or “All the hours you lose to low energy add up to years of life where you could have been productive.” If it sounds like something you could use again and again, in different venues, it’s probably right.

Keep it Simple: The most memorable ‘line’ in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Alinamin V energy drink commercial isn’t words. It’s his vocalized staccato laugh: Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. You can just picture people walking around the house doing the Arnold laugh.

If Christopher Walken is the answer to everything, don’t you have an example from him, you might ask? Right you are–from that “Walken Closet” commercial, how about “Do you want to be devoured… Richard?”

When you’ve got a vision for growing your marketing, MadPipe has the energy and brains to help you tell your story. Reach out, and let’s not waste any more time!

This post originally appeared October 27, 2015 and is making its reappearance with newly added case studies.

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides leadership in marketing, educational programs, and organizational transformation for brands that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, writes a Forbes column, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, and Success Magazine.

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About once/month, Corporate Storyteller and Digital Ecologist® Daniel DiGriz weaves together interesting stories around organizational transformation, education, and marketing.

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