You’ve seen the ads where Mr. McConaughey very seriously mumbles gravitas-laden lines like “I’ve been driving Lincolns before anyone ever paid me to drive one”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4lklnkk8SU Yeah, he’s purty. Yeah, he has demonstrated decent range, from the decidedly non-Shakespearean Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Texas Buyers Club and beyond. 3 dozen or so movies over the last 2 decades, with a combined box office gross of $1.7 billion or so. Not too shabby. Mr. McConaughey seems to have gotten into real money by his late 20s (see chart below).
Mr. McConaughey’s celebrity seems the sole driver behind these spots, as evidenced by the fact that it is high on style, but the dialogue is itself mostly random. Not a single explicit or implied benefit in the bunch. So what is celebrity and why do advertisers use it? A quick review of what a celebrity can bring to the table:
- Breakthrough. Put a loose cannon or a recognizable pretty face on the tube, and people may look up from Heroes Charge and pay attention. Very helpful in a noisy world.
- Endorsement. If Celebrity So-and-so chooses Product X, it must be good, because they can afford the best. This works if it is logical that Celebrity So-and-so actually would use the product.
- Coolness by association. If a product is associated with a cool person, if things roll right some of that cool rubs off on the product itself.
EXHIBITS 1 AND 2 – These 2 charts demonstrate that over his career, Mr. McConaughey’s movies’ gross revenues rose faster than his movie ratings did (as demonstrated by comparing slope of the trend lines, which is one well-established quantification of celebrity – data taken from table below). So he definitely has it. But I’m still not buying a Lincoln from Mr. McConaughey, celebrity though he may be. This particular campaign, to me, falls down mostly on #2 – endorsement. I have done a statistical analysis of Mr. McConaughey’s career and can demonstrate that there is no time in his career where he would have chosen to drive a Lincoln because he “just liked it”. In other words, I don’t believe him. EXHIBIT 3 – let’s just get this out of the way. Before MM started making money, he was a kid barely into his 20s in rural south Texas, and this 1988 model is the sort of used Lincoln he may have had to consider. Case closed. There were plenty of Camaros, TransAms and F150s to go around. EXHIBIT 4 – shows career movies, Rotten Tomatoes rankings (up or down vote of what % of critics liked it), as well as what he may have been thinking as his star (and paycheck) rose, he aged out of his twenties and eventually 30s, and what sort of vehicle he may have considered. Net – Mr. McConaughey is by most measures a true celebrity, and he has earned it through quality and quantity of performance (though not always at the same time). But no one will be able to convince me that he willfully drove a Lincoln when he had all sorts of other options available — which is what his commercials are trying to get us to do with the Lincoln MKC.