The use of celebrity spokespeople in ad campaigns in lieu of a real idea seems to be on the wane, which is a good thing. Chalk it up to the growing sophistication of the audience, which would rather know what their friends and peers think of a product than a bought and paid for shill.
Still, you see them, and if you watch Mad Men, you see them a lot. Especially John Slattery (Roger Sterling) for Lincoln. On paper (or PowerPoint) this looks like a good choice: guy who used to be dusty, now of the moment; solid Establishment type with a rebellious streak; a guy who you could plausibly see behind the wheel of this car (unlike, say, the crazy-ass choice of Tiger Woods for Buick a few years back).
But what a waste. Basically, they use Slattery as the world’s most expensive extra and hand-model. He has almost no lines. We see him in the distance, in shadow, from behind–like he was in a Witness Protection program, not starring in a TV commercial. Here’s a few examples:
Who is that guy? What is he hiding?
That very tiny man on the left would be Roger.
Underexposure is not Sam Waterston‘s problem in the TD Ameritrade campaign. He is the campaign–him and a big honking logo. No, his problem is that the company’s owner, Joe Ricketts, was revealed to be a batshit-crazy, hate-mongering wingnut. Eager to join such great Americans as the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, Ricketts was ready to open up his checkbook to run a rancid screed linking President Obama to Rev. Wright–a spot so noxious and inflammatory that even Mitt Romney felt compelled to condemn it (after the storyboard was leaked to the New York Times).
In a delicious reversal from the usual order of things, client bad behavior was dinging the spokesperson’s brand rather than the other way around. A brief read of Waterston’s bio suggests that he himself is sane, educated and moderately progressive in his views. And his other advertising activities include work for the Nation. Waterston, obviously recruited to TD Ameritrade as the rock-ribbed symbol of virtue and probity, must have had his lawyers looking closely to see if there was an escape clause in his contract last week. Even in these morally ambivalent times, this cannot be what he signed up for .