Final Analysis: Do Microsoft's Celebrity Endorsements Work?

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Do celebrities influence you? More specifically, do their endorsements make you buy stuff? Are you more likely to shell out a few hundred bucks on a Windows Phone 8 because Gwen Stefani says it allows her to stay creative and never miss a thing in her busy life? Will it make a difference to you if Jay-Z, an old Friend of Microsoft, jumps aboard the Windows Phone bandwagon, as has been reported by some media outlets?

In case you haven’t noticed, Microsoft likes famous people. Remember when Jerry Seinfeld appeared with Bill Gates in those goofy TV commercials in 2008? Or when Queen Latifah helped Gates announce Microsoft’s vision for digital entertainment in 2004? Jay Leno shows up regularly as a Microsoft accomplice. Conan O’Brien, too.

Attaching the company to famous people is a strategy that, for better or worse, is something Microsoft’s marketing execs believe in deeply. It’s their way of telling the rest of us that it’s OK to want and own something Microsoft makes.

At the official launch of Windows Phone 8 in October, former iPhone user Jessica Alba joined Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer onstage to tout the features and advantages of the new phone. Alba wasn’t articulate or even all that knowledgeable about the product, but the point was obvious: Here was this glamorous young actress—a busy mom to boot—offering her cherished imprimatur to the media horde.

Same with Stefani. She’s an accomplished singer. A fashion mogul. A wife and a mom trying to keep her life in balance. And the Windows Phone 8 helps her do that. Why wouldn’t we want one, too?

As Thom Gruhler, Microsoft’s vice president for Windows Phone marketing, put it recently to The Seattle Times: “It’s creating this permission. I know it’s OK. It’s acceptable. I can pull that out at a dinner party and say, ‘Hey, Gwen Stefani has that phone. Check it out.’”

Don’t know about you, but if I’m at a dinner party where someone pulls out his or her smartphone and starts dropping celeb names, I am long gone before the tiramisu arrives. But that’s just me. Celebrity endorsements are as old as advertising. I mean, if you’re a caveman and you’ve just discovered fire, wouldn’t you covet an endorsement from the celebrated artist who’s been doing all those critically acclaimed cave paintings? (“Before, I could only paint during the daytime. Org’s fire invention allows me to be creative all the time. I absolutely love it!”)

It’s human nature to attach an idea that you think is cool to someone who is perceived as cool. It’s also human nature to look at celebrity endorsements and wonder what they imply about a company that uses them. Are these tactics rooted in inspiration? Or desperation?

Writing in Ad Age last year, marketing executive Jonathan Salem Baskin worried that Apple had lost some of its own considerable cachet by employing Samuel L. Jackson, Zooey Deschanel and John Malkovich to promote the iPhone’s Siri feature. “Hiring famous people is what Microsoft or Acura do when they get Jerry Seinfeld to try to make their brands funny,” Baskin declared. “It’s what packaged goods brands do when they can’t think of anything better to talk about.”

Not that Apple hasn’t used celebrities before. But Baskin’s point is that Apple doesn’t need celebrities. It usually is happy to let its products do the talking. Which leads me to wonder if Apple felt uneasy about the Siri feature and decided to ask the cool kids for help. And if Microsoft will ever feel confident enough not to rely on them.

JOHN LEVESQUE is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine.

The 2016 Washington Manufacturing Awards: Legacy Award

The 2016 Washington Manufacturing Awards: Legacy Award

Winner: Belshaw Adamatic Bakery Group
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Legacy Award
Belshaw Adamatic Bakery Group
Auburn › belshaw-adamatic.com
When it’s time to make doughnuts — or loaves of bread, or sheets of rolls — it could well be a Belshaw Adamatic piece of equipment that’s turning out the baked goods. From a 120,000-square-foot plant in Auburn, Belshaw Adamatic produces the ovens, fryers, conveyors and specialty equipment like jelly injectors used by wholesale and retail bakeries.
 
The firm’s two legacy companies — Belshaw started in 1923, Adamatic in 1962 — combined forces in 2007. Italy’s Ali Group North America is the parent.
 
It it takes work to maintain a legacy. A months-long strike in 2013 damaged morale and forced a leadership change. Frank Chandler was named president and CEO of Belshaw Adamatic in September 2013. The company has since strived to mend workplace relationships while also introducing a stream of new products, such as a convection oven, the BX Eco-touch, with energy saving features and steam injection that can be programmed for precise times in baking. The company energetically describes it as “an oven that saves time, reduces errors, makes an awesome product, and is fun to use and depend on every day!”
 
So far, more than 3,000 have been installed in quick-service restaurants, bakeries, cafés and supermarkets in the United States. They are the legacy of Thomas and Walter Belshaw, former builders of marine engines, who began producing patented manual and automated doughnut-making machines in Seattle 90 years ago. They sold thousands worldwide and, today, Belshaw Adamatic is the nation’s largest maker and distributor of doughnut-making equipment.