For that matter, why do an insurance company, car company, and fast feeder also want to be my girlfriend? (and where were they when I was an undergrad?)
Well, actually, they want to be your girlfriend too. And I’m talking about long-term girlfriend, not quick little fling girlfriend* (example of that below).
Why? Quite simply, they want you to like them. And likeability is very good for a brand. All else being equal, people would rather do business with a company they like.
If you’ll work with me on the analogy, these are companies in very competitive, undifferentiated, and more functional than fun businesses. We’re talking AT&T, Progressive, Toyota and Wendy’s. They know there are other comparable offerings out there, so they do not want to play hard to get. They want to be the brand you’re comfortable with and want your parents to meet (if you’re a guy). If you’re a woman, they’re someone who’d be fun to hang around with.
Here’s a directory of the most prominent of the current ‘girlfriend’ spokespersons.
Why do these spokespersons work so well? They’re funny, smart and pretty. Not beautiful, pretty – – girl next door pretty. There’s a difference. Progressive’s Flo, of course, started this recent wave, but all have serious comedy/performing chops. They are naturally funny, and they’re in on the joke. All are dressed conservatively, as if to maximize appeal without overt sex appeal.
In short, you like them for all the right reasons. And if the advertising is successful, some of this likeability/appeal rubs off on the brand and helps you like the company just a little bit more than the competition.
Here are sample clips from each of these spokespersons. They would seem to appeal to all major genders equally.
Toyota’s Jan (her expression at around :15 is pure comedic genius):
AT&T’s Lily Adams:
These are fun spots, they build the product into the story, they catch your attention, and refreshing the campaign minimizes wearout. And — they respect the viewer – wow!
So what’s wrong with beautiful? Well, none of these women is Gisele Bündchen. (actually if you look closely, Gisele Bündchen isn’t even Gisele Bündchen. But that’s another story).
The reason: beautiful just wouldn’t work. Like it or not, it seems that model-beautiful and funny are virtually never celebrated in the same person (quick – – name a supermodel who cracks you up). Using someone known primarily for their looks would be distracting, confuse the messaging, and rather than be likable, would make the spokesperson seem unattainable for guys and threatening for women.
*For an example of the exact opposite of the ‘girlfriend’ approach, check out the most recent Carl’s Jr. ad. Suffice it to say, if you want the Texas BBQ Thickburger, you want it once, so you can tell your friends you had it. But you would probably not respect yourself in the morning (warning, barely safe for work): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvKuhpZjA4M
The Carl’s Jr spot, like most of their work, has it all: contrived, cynical, pandering, insulting, demeaning.
Likability is good. I wish more brands tried it.