About AEF | Newsletter | Site Map | Legal | Advanced Search
Print Version

Advertisers turn to 'real people' to sell their stuff

Marketers, pulling a page from reality show scripts, are using more "real people" in ads. The move comes even as they're scaling back ads on reality TV.

Real talent costs less and makes commercial endorsements more believable, marketers say. High-profile celebrities, by contrast, can create a high-profile backlash if they say or do the wrong thing.

"We're a very skeptical country right now, and real-people commercials have instant credibility," says Laura Slutsky, a director and producer with PeopleFinders Productions. The company has 150 people scouting ad prospects for such brands as Glade and Oust.

The hunt for raw talent isn't easy.

Searchers scour malls, gyms, supermarkets and retail outlets to find everyday people. Austin agency GSD&M dedicates a full-time staffer to finding the right people for Wal-Mart ads. Brinker International poured through 800 reels to make seven ads for its Chili's "taste-a-monial" ads.

But there are risks. Many consumers can't distinguish real-people commercials from those featuring obscure actors or paid commercial endorsers. And the limited acting ability of real people can limit ad creativity.

How do marketers overcome that? "You rely on the message rather than the messenger," says Ryan Schinman, president Platinum Rye Entertainment.

The latest real deals:

  • -Cigna. The benefits company turned to human resource managers for its first business-targeted TV campaign in 20 years. The campaign by DDB Chicago shows real people from real companies talking about their lives and the employees they help. The goal: to show benefits decision-makers as more personable, says Bruce Rekant, Cigna's assistant vice president of corporate marketing.
  • -Chili's. Since October, the casual-dining chain has shown everyday people singing, dancing or playing instruments to demonstrate their affinity for Chili's. The ads by GSD&M have helped drive same-store sales up nearly every quarter since. "We view it as a contemporary twist on the traditional testimonial strategy," says Chili's spokesman Randy Kies.
  • -Lands' End. The Sears-owned brand on May 12 began its first bathing suit TV ads. By McKinney + Silver, three ads show real women talking about swimsuit anxieties and the "maxi coverage, mini style" of Lands' End suits. In one, Devika Parikh says, "You're not going to see me walking down the beach in a thong."
  • -McDonald's. Trying everything from new menu items to training techniques to rejuvenate sales, McDonald's is also testing restaurant crew workers and managers in two ads by DDB Chicago. The ads, running in Tampa, feature 16 different workers ages 18 to 60 talking about their customer service. "We got feedback that customers wanted to know more about McDonald's employees," says Bill Whitman, a McDonald's spokesman.
  • -Wal-Mart. Four new TV ads continue the company's 15-year tradition of using Wal-Mart customers in ads. "The customers of Wal-Mart literally see themselves in the commercials," says Alicia Kriese, senior vice president, group director, GSD&M, which creates the ads. One ad features the Carpenter family voicing concern about their daughter's first solo road trip. They are comforted by knowing her car was just serviced at Wal-Mart.
  • -Apple. Most new ads for iTunes (99 cents a song) feature real people except those with aspiring actors Floyd and Nic.

Posted on aef.com: May 22, 2003


Theresa Howard, USA TODAY. May 19, 2003

Copyright © 2003 USA TODAY. All rights reserved.