Just how important is a big name in selling a product?

Brad_Pitt_2013

Twelve Years a Slave “starring” Brad Pitt would be a very different movie. (Photo by Eva Rinaldi via wikicommons)

So, I ponder this question because of two recent items I saw.

First, I saw a blurb on a movie site suggesting I check out the upcoming film 12 Years a Slave “starring Brad Pitt.”  Having read about this film a few weeks ago, I was flabbergasted by that description, as there is no way the film could possibly “star” Brad Pitt. I’m sure he is in it, but unless they’ve drastically adapted the book it is based on ( the memoir of an African-American slave who lived during the 1800s), Brad Pitt just can’t be the “star.”

Because Brad Pitt has such a huge fan base, I’m sure the site hoped to tap into that and get those people to go check it out. But, it felt entirely false, because if you say a movie stars an actor, you’re implying that actor is the main guy (especially if you don’t list anyone else along with it). Now this ad was on a movie news site, not the film company’s site. When you go to www.12yearsaslave.com, Brad Pitt is listed eighth or ninth among people in the cast, which includes Chiwetel Ejiofor (the star), Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch. So, this was clearly overzealousness on the part of an independent site.

The second thing that made me wonder about the importance of a big name was the reveal that JK Rowling (of the Harry Potter empire) penned a detective novel under a pseudonym. The book got wonderful reviews, but only sold about 1,500 copies prior to  Rowling being revealed as the author. After that, sales skyrocketed, making the book number one on several book-selling sites.

Good reviews and no name equaled mediocre sales. Once the big name was revealed, it was a runaway success.

It’s interesting how important a big name can be (in Rowling’s case), as well as how important people think it is (in the suggestion that Brad Pitt was the star of a film about a slave).

I suppose, ultimately, big names don’t mean anything if people aren’t interested in the product that has been put out. I think Johnny Depp and Arnie Hammer (Lone Ranger) or even Will Smith (After Earth) could you tell you something about that.

About RJ Crayton

RJ Crayton is a former journalist who now writes fiction. She's reported for the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, as well as the smaller publications Education Technology News and Campus Crime. She has two published novels, Life First and Second Life and blogs for Indies Unlimited and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. For exclusive content and first looks at her new work, sign up for the newsletter at http://rjcrayton.com/subscribe.
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5 Responses to Just how important is a big name in selling a product?

  1. Phyllis Ring says:

    Good thoughts – thanks very much. I’m wondering today how much author Rowling’s choice was to obtain the liberty-in-experience she described it to be. This morning I hear people labeling it a master marketing strategy. My heart can’t help leaning toward the perspective she described. I also wonder, when will we finally outlast and move beyond the wages of this dominating focus on celebrity that has seemed to trump everything? What might life look like if we did?

    • Mel Parish says:

      Wouldn’t it be wonderful? It seems nowadays that everything has to come with a celebrity tag – not only books, but fashion and perfume, even household items. Are we no longer capable of making a choice without the input of celebrity approval?

    • RJ Crayton says:

      Yes, celebrity is often too much a factor in today’s marketing campaigns. And it’s not so much real celebrity that’s a problem. It used to be that people became celebrities by doing really outstanding work in their field and choosing/releasing good projects (think Meryl Streep, JK Rowling, Michael Crichton, Stephen Spielberg). Nowadays, there are so many people who get the label “celebrity” when they’re just the fly-by-night reality person of the moment who is willing to share anything in order to be in the tabloids and/or on TV. And then endorsors get into the hype, and pay these people to seek out their products. It used to be that people who were celebrities made real effort to preserve their brand and didn’t endorse much at all (think the Beatles). They worked hard for their name and reputation and if they told you about something, you could be sure they stood by it and believed in it. And that’s why getting a celebrity endorsement meant something and still has a cache. Unfortunately, nowadays, half the so-called celebrities are just in it for a quick buck.

      And I think Rowling is telling the truth about the anonymity and freedom she got. Casual Vacancy was really manhandled by reviewers (at least the ones I read) and I think that was partly due to expectations about who Rowling was. So, I’m sure it was liberating to just do it and see what happened. She doesn’t need the money, so she didn’t have to go out and promote it or anything. She could just see what happened. And she did. What would have been interesting is if the book had gotten poor reviews. Would they ever have revealed the pseudonym?

      Finally, sorry about the delay in reply. Had an all-day outing with the kids, and just getting home.

  2. Mel Parish says:

    It all comes down to product endorsement in the end, the idea that if a ‘big’ name is associated with it, it must be good – hence all the ad sponsorships offered to sportsmen and actors (though I have yet to see this with an author!) Dud movies and books offer us the best examples of how this is not necessarily true, but once someone is famous the public seem to be very forgiving and will try their next offering and often the next even if they don’t satisfy, but they are reluctant to ‘take a risk’ on an unknown, even if all that is at risk is a few dollars (the price of a movie ticket or book). Unfortunately it often seems that most people need the approval of others before they will see or read or do something.
    Personally, with regard to the movie ’12 Years a Slave’ (which I have to admit I’d never heard of) I’d be more likely to go and see it based on the fact that it has Chiwetel Ejiofor or Michael Fassbender (both of whom I think are brilliant) in it than Brad Pitt – but then I have seen so many more enjoyable and intelligent ‘indie’ movies in the last few years than I have those with big named stars that they have become my preference.

    • RJ Crayton says:

      I agree with you about the idea of public risk assessment. People view it as a risk, spending their hard-earned cash on an unknown. Also, I think time is an issue, too, because people don’t have time to investigate every purchase. So, when you get an endorsement–a good one from a celebrity who is likable and has a good reputation–it’s easier to assume that celeb has done the due diligence and won’t risk tarnishing his/her good name supporting something bad.

      Your point about writers not getting celebrity endorsement deals is interesting. I’d never thought of it that way. But, maybe the problem with writers is people don’t necessarily know what they look like. JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer (who have done a fair amount of TV/film extras in connection with their books being turned into films) might get deals. But, a lot of writers aren’t household faces.

      Again, sorry about the delayed response. Just got in from a long day.

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