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What Do Celebrity Endorsers Add To Car Sales?

By Aaron Crowe

Victoria Beckham Range Rover EvoqueIn an odd twist of life that only someone with a twisted sense of right and wrong can understand, rich celebrities get expensive stuff for free.

Whether it’s goodie bags at the Oscars, free drinks at a restaurant, expensive clothes without paying, or a free car to drive, celebrities who can already afford such things are getting them for free.

And there are plenty of free cars being driven by Hollywood stars, musicians, pro athletes and others deemed worthy of being seen getting out of a car that the average American can’t afford. Such drivers include Justin Timberlake, Maria Sharapova, Kobe Bryant, Jeremy Lin and Victoria Beckham.

Some may earn some money for their services, but the cachet they give automakers by using their cars isn’t enough to warrant free use of a vehicle. They’re often called “ambassadors” and require more than just driving the manufacturer’s car.

They can be required to attend parties, where they’ll speak on behalf of the carmaker and become a walking, talking advertisement for the car.

But what do celebrity car “ambassadors” add to car sales? Do people buy a car because a famous person drives one?

Not many, according to a poll in 2010 by Car buyers actually shun celebrity endorsements when making buying decisions, with only 1% of car buyers saying celebrity endorsements would encourage them to buy a car, the poll found.

Instead of getting shoppers to rush out and buy that car, what celebrities may be adding is a change to public perception or help develop the carmaker’s profile. Timberlake, for example, could help convince young drivers that Audi is a cool car to drive.

As with any celebrity endorsement, the promotion can backfire. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady crashed a free Audi S8 in 2010 — he wasn’t at fault in the accident — and the Boston Globe took him to task for taking a $97,000 car and giving a fleet of Audis to his linemen that a charity got for free from Audi.

Timberlake, another Audi brand ambassador, has been promoting Audi since 2009 and seems more like a commercial spokesman that simply an ambassador. The music star is everywhere on the Internet with an Audi near him, and he’s the lead role in Audi’s Internet ads.

Some automakers go with ambassadors who aren’t celebrities, but are widely known in their field and can add some meaning behind what they say. Mountain climber Kenton Cool recently became an ambassador for Land Rover, though his gushing over the car’s technology and features is a bit over the top.

“I have to admit that the team did fight over who would drive, especially when I let slip about the heated steering wheel,” says Cool, who was soon headed back up Mount Everest.

“Ice climbing can be brutal on the fingers,” he continues, “climbers call it ‘Hot Aches,’ a searing pain that occurs when the fingers get seriously cold then warm up, wrapping cold hands around the heated steering wheel was heaven.”

Cool goes on about how the car’s panoramic glass roof let the crew see the Northern Lights for the first time “from the best seat in the world.”

Maybe that’s the best a car ambassador can do: Let the consumer see the car from their perspective — though a little less gushing might help.


Aaron Crowe is a writer who covers auto insurance for