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When Brand Spokesperson Campaigns Backfire

Others may try, but not every company can find its Flo. Here are 5 ways to ensure brand spokesperson success. 

We all know Flo. The quirky Progressive Insurance Girl quickly became an advertising icon when actress/comedian Stephanie Courtney took on the role for the company’s commercials. Her ads have managed to turn boring insurance into marketing gold. Upon the campaign launch, Progressive hailed Flo. She became an essential element to its $500 million-plus annual marketing effort to attract consumers. But not every brand can find its Flo. There are plenty of examples of failed brand spokesperson campaigns. Let’s examine a couple, to see why they failed.

Irritating Spokesperson for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Any discussion of failed brand spokespersons must begin with Viberzi. They introduced “Irritabelle,” a character to portray the “hyperactive colon” in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The subject is more gross than glam. I’m sure the pharmaceutical company hoped that by injecting humor into the topic, people would start talking. Well, it got me talking – but not fondly. This is an example of brand spokesperson fail.

This red-headed spokescharacter just isn’t Progressive’s Flo.
Photo source: Adweek

First, Flo owns the red-headed spokesperson category (at least since Bounty retired Rosie). Why even try to compete that way? If you’re going to go the brand character route, make it unique.

Second, the IBS character is annoying. She’s not adorable or likeable. Watching her doesn’t make a potential patient want to ask their doctor about this treatment. It makes them want to change the channel.

Eye-rolling Spokesperson for Chronic Dry Eyes

Another brand with a spokesperson fail is Restasis, a treatment for chronic dry eyes. In this instance, Allergan enlisted Dr. Tendler (ironically another redhead), an actual patient, as a compensated brand spokesperson. Choosing an actual MD and patient was a great move in terms of credibiilty. However, Dr. Tendler comes across as robotic on camera.

Having a spokesperson with potential to take a brand viral is integral to increasing sales.

Here are 5 ways to launch a brand spokesperson campaign with success:

  1. Choose a spokesperson with unique characteristics that will appeal to your target demographic audience
  2. Set the character up for success with ads that have likable storylines 
  3. Media train spokespeople that are not actors (please!)
  4. Screen test the ad among consumers before launching a national campaign
  5. Incorporate trending pop culture topics that can viewers can connect with – especially if you’re promoting something that’s uncomfortable or undesirable to discuss

Now you know – so find your Flo!


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