The powerful influence of Québec celebrities on consumers has long been recognized. But how does it stack up against Hollywood's glamorous stars?
When L'Oréal Paris launched a Canada-exclusive skincare line called Hydra-Total 5 earlier this year, one would have expected the global brand to have signed a Canadian celebrity to be its face.
“Traditionally, L’Oréal Paris product advertising is developed for an international audience and implemented regionally, but, because Hydra-Total 5 is not a worldwide launch, we had the unique opportunity to choose the formulas and develop an exclusively Canadian marketing campaign tailor-made to our consumers" said Amélie Fortier-Cyr, brand director for skin and cosmetics at L’Oréal Paris.
The campaign may have been designed for Canadian women but L'Oréal chose to feature Indian actress Freida Pinto in its advertising.
The actress, who L'Oréal described in a release as having a particularly strong fan base with Canadian women who often struggle with uneven skin tone, is not Canadian. But she made sure to point out that she has a Canadian connection in this launch video: the movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes in which she stared was shot in Vancouver: "This Canada connection, I can't get rid of it. It's always going to be in my life."
Contrast this with Canadian cosmetics brand Lise Watier's approach to celebrity endorsement. Distributed nationally, the brand is deeply entrenched in Québec where its eponymous founder is a celebrity herself and an inspiration to women. The brand's recent advertising features Québec actress Caroline Dhavernas.
Marcelle, another Québec-based cosmetics marketer, has featured Québec actress Karine Vanasse in its advertising since 2013.
She is joined by Québec actor Thomas Beaudoin in advertising for another Marcelle brand; its recently launched CW Beggs and Sons line for men. Coincidentally, Beaudoin also appeared in an English language television spot for Old Spice this year.
Could these brands have signed Hollywood faces instead?
It's possible. Montréal-based Reitmans injected some American star power in its brand when it signed Meghan Markle from the hit television series Suits, to promote the retailer in both languages.
The use of celebrities in advertising has been a common practice for more than 60 years. Marketers aim to associate their brands with people who are recognized and often admired, sometimes idolized, by their target audience, such as actors, athletes and entertainers. It is estimated that between 14 and 20% of all television commercials in the US feature celebrities. Celebrities deliver stopping power; the ability to draw attention and interest in a cluttered advertising environment. They help ensure higher levels of correct brand attribution; people who claim they saw an ad and correctly identify which brand it was for. Ads using well-liked celebrities are also usually more effective at favourably influencing the target's evaluations, feelings, attitudes towards the advertising and, consequently, the brand. Studies have also shown that celebrity endorsers' trustworthiness and attractiveness can have significant positive impact on purchase intentions.
Hollywood CA or Hollywood PQ?
Flip through the pages of most women's publications and you'll find the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Andie MacDowell and Jennifer Lopez staring at you to promote makeup, shampoo and perfume. French-speaking women living in Québec have been exposed to the French versions of the same ads appearing in magazines such as Châtelaine and Coup de pouce.
Québec is well-known for its deep home-grown talent pool. Québec’s star system is a force fuelled by television talk shows and celebrity gossip magazines. And while Quebeckers are interested in the lives of Hollywood celebrities, they're equally if not more interested in their own stars.
Given Québec's strong celebrity culture, we sought to understand how using well-known Québec celebrities instead of American celebrities in advertising would affect its effectiveness. Our firm commissioned an online survey of 400 French-speaking women between the ages of 25 and 54 living in Québec.
We took two magazine ads appearing in French women magazines and created another version featuring a Québec celebrity. One for Aveeno skincare products featuring American actress Jennifer Aniston and one for CITIZEN watches featuring American singer-songwriter Kelly Clarkson. Both were signed as global brand ambassadors in early 2013 and have been prominently featured in global, multi-language, and multimedia campaigns.
Julie Le Breton, an award-winning actress born in 1975 in Québec who has played major roles in films and on television, was selected for Aveeno. Julie Perreault who is also a Québec-born award-winning movie and television actress and photographer was selected for CITIZEN. All other elements in the original French version of the ads were maintained.
- which version, if any, is better recalled by the target?
- among those who recall seeing the ad, which version is more correctly associated with the brand?
- which version do more respondents agree is credible, relevant, arresting and original.
Four groups of one hundred respondents were each shown a version of the ads inserted in editorial content from the December issue of Coup de pouce magazine. They were asked to flip through the pages without reading the articles and told they'd be asked questions on what they had just seen.
After exposure to the magazine pages, respondents were asked if they recalled seeing the advertising. Those who said yes were then asked to identify the brand the ad was for from a list of brand names. All four hundred respondents were then shown the two versions of each ad and asked to rate each ad in terms of being credible, relevant, arresting and original.
The ads featuring Québec celebrities were as effective as those featuring American celebrities in terms of being noticed. Eight out of ten respondents exposed to the Aveeno ad claim to have noticed it. 84% did when it featured Jennifer Aniston and 82% did when it featured Julie Le Breton.
Seven out of ten respondents exposed to the Citizen ad claim to have noticed it. 72% did when it featured Kelly Clarkson and 74% did when it featured Julie Perreault.
Correct attribution to Aveeno was high whether respondents saw the version of the ad featuring Jennifer Aniston or the one featuring Julie Le Breton at 92% and 95% respectively.
Correct attribution to CITIZEN was much lower with only 52.4% of those who saw the version of the ad featuring Kelly Clarkson correctly recalling CITIZEN. Importantly, one in three respondents who claim to have noticed the ad said they could not recall what brand it was for from a list that included Bulova, Omega, and TAG Heuer. Among those who saw the version featuring Julie Perreault, correct attribution to CITIZEN increased to 70.1%.
The version of the ad for CITIZEN featuring Julie Perreault was rated significantly higher as being credible, relevant, arresting and original than the version featuring Kelly Clarkson.
The two US celebrities featured in the magazine ads tested in this study have been associated with the brands for two years. Their role as ambassadors has been heavily promoted via media advertising and other communication channels including social media, the brands’ websites, in-store advertising, consumer promotions, etc. One would assume that their association with their respective endorsed brand is therefore already quite strong.
Despite this uneven playing field, the Québec celebrities performed very well. In the case of the Aveeno ad, the Québec celebrity was equally effective at grabbing attention and ensuring the brand is correctly recalled. And it was judged to be as credible, relevant and original as the version featuring a US celebrity. In the case of the Citizen ad, the version featuring a Québec celebrity was more effective in terms of branded recall and being seen as credible, relevant, arresting and original.
Each brand and category is different and each potential ambassador should be thoroughly assessed prior to making media investments in Québec. More than anything, this study indicates that there are no silver bullets for an effective celebrity endorser campaign in Québec. Hollywood is always an option for global brands but so is Hollywood, PQ.