Why having celebrities in ads don't always work

A celebrity can make or break your ad. It's important that the celebrity fits your brand. Viewers' perception of the celebrity depends also on the people around the celebrity. These people play crucial roles: their facial expressions and reactions towards the celeb determine whether your ad will be effective or not. Discover how this works below.

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Why does a product demonstration activates negative emotions?

In 2016, Blokker, a Dutch store, wanted to change its brand image. Thus, they launched an ad (shown below) with Sarah Jessica Parker from the popular series "Sex and the City".

The ad was meant to show that Blokker is also fancy, just like Sarah Jessica Parker in her fancy apartment in New York City. In the ad, Sarah Jessica gives a product demonstration of the products you can buy at Blokker.

Take a good look at the ad. What do you notice? Keep this in mind, we'll come back to it.


The Dutch public did not appreciate this Blokker ad. To find out why, Neurensics tested the ad with fMRI. fMRI measures the balance of positive and negative emotions activated by the ad. Effective ads are characterised by a good balance of both emotions (see learning 1).

fMRI results: the ad didn't activate brain responses responsible for purchase intent

The results from the fMRI study were clear: the ad didn't activate brain responses which are important for purchase intent: Desire, Expectation and Trust. On the contrary, the ad activated mistrust.

More importantly, the ad activated too many negative emotions, such as Danger and Disgust.

Take a look at the Eye Tracking video that was recorded in the MRI scanner. It reveals the cause of the negative emotions.

You see that the faces of the actors attracting the most attention. We always see this in our eye-tracking results: people tend to look at other people and mainly at their faces (check also learning 11). 

The Blokker ad is no exception and this results makes us aware of the ad's problem: the facial expressions of the people around Sarah Jessica consistently disapproved her behaviour. Did you also notice this when you saw the ad?

The negative influence of disapproving looks

Neuromarketing learning 2- Blokker reclame Sarah Jessica Parker - negatieve gezichtsuitdrukkingen

This study, as well as many other social psychological studies, clearly shows the strong impact of people around us. Our behaviour is strongly influenced by the approval or disapproval of others.

In this Blokker ad, the incorrect social norm is (unintentionally) communicated: the products demonstrated by Sarah Jessica Parker are unanimously disapproved. A pity, because these disapproving looks have a strong negative influence on the effectiveness on the ad.

This example shows that it is important for the ad to communicate social approval of the product or service. Disapproving looks activate aversion and danger in the viewers' minds, instead of the necessary positive emotions.

It is therefore advisable to communicate the desired behaviour: Sarah Jessica Parker being happy with Blokker products with the people around her reacting positively, showing positive facial expressions.

This would induce copying behaviour in the viewers (increasing purchase intent) and may even turn Sarah Jessica Parker into a good saleswoman.

Go to the next learning.

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