It features Ellen Degeneres, Robert DeNiro, Kate Winslet, Laird Hamilton, Coach K, and Tiger Woods. The Ellen Degeneres “Dance” spot is particularly funny. It’s true to Degeneres (and a theme of her talk show). It’s a successful excavation of the gag (Degeneres dances to the music of a ring tone and an ice cream truck). Finally, it’s not like any of the other spots. DeNiro’s spot is a sentimental Valentine to New York City, Tiger Wood’s is a wry thank you to rainy days (when he doesn’t have to play).
How can these endorsers all speak for the same company? How can one company want this much individuality rehearsed on its behalf?
The answer is clear: American Express is trying to solve one of the single most pressing problem on the marketer’s blotter: how to be many things to many people. And to solve this problem, they look to their endorsers not for the usual witless witness, but for their difference. In fact, these spots are about the depths of their differences. If celebrity endorsement is about moving meanings from the celebrity to the brand, the meanings in question here are particular, almost maximally differentiated. This is what endorsement looks like in the market of the long tail, in a culture of plenitude.
Naturally this raises many marketing problems even as it solves. What is the brand when it is a thing of threads and patches? What is the architecture that makes all this diversity go together for strategic purposes? Indeed, is architecture a desirable metaphor, or even a plausible one.
But this approach to endorsement does have happy consequences for the star and for contemporary culture. The old bargain was zero sum, the star gave up some credibility to augment the brand. And this is why they were so handsomely paid. Compromise made for scarcity, scarcity made for a big, fat pay day.
The new bargain is win-win. The brand is augmented and so is the celebrity. This should mean that more celebrities want to participate and we should expect endorsement fees follow suit. (Mind you, even if all celebrities want to participate, there is still only one DeNiro.)
It’s win-win-win, actually, because contemporary culture is now the beneficiary of more interesting advertising which in turn serves as an inducement to more difference. I am not talking about Degeneres’ sexual identity but about a white person’s willingness to dance in public. Whatever else these ads are about, they celebrate personal expression. Thus does some plenitude make for more plenitude.
Post Script: Thanks for your well wishes. The presentation (noted in Friday’s post) is in hand, and I am in Philadelphia. I think it’s ok, but if you never hear from me again, you can assume that the client was not pleased.