Financial companies have long used celebrities and fun characters in their ads, and some have found that going beyond the television spot, integrating the celebrity into the product design, is an even more successful strategy.
Indeed, even the financial industry's most prominent celeb-endorsed blunder, the Kardashian Kard, "could have been the most brilliant product ever," Ron Shevlin, senior analyst for Aite Group of Boston, said in an interview.
The Kardashian sisters pulled their endorsement after widespread criticism over the prepaid product's fee structure. Though its monthly fees were in line with mainstream products, the Kard came under fire for charging up to a year's worth of such fees up front.
Had the Kard lasted longer, it could have been used to promote discounts with advertisers that supported the sisters' reality show. Marketers could have then reviewed spending data for Kard users to determine the effectiveness of each TV ad.
"There are huge opportunities for celebrities," particularly for prepaid products, Shevlin said.
SocialWise Inc.'s BillMyParents, which offers a prepaid MasterCard promoted by the extreme athlete Rob Dyrdek, deeply integrates its product with its pitchman.
Evaluating the effectiveness of cards' spokespeople is tricky, Shevlin said. "You can't draw any conclusions about spokespeople without understanding what the company is trying to do," he said.
For well-known financial companies, using celebrities gets attention and can "cut through the clutter" of conveying a message, Shevlin said. The investment firm TD Ameritrade, for example, uses the former "Law & Order" actor Sam Waterston to lend credibility to its products and services, Shevlin said. It has also used other actors from the show to promote its products over the years.
Capital One Financial Corp. uses several methods to promote its Venture credit card, including "30 Rock" actor Alec Baldwin, a host of feisty Vikings and a goat.
There also are what Shevlin termed "risky" efforts to use spokespeople to promote financial services.
LittlePayday.com, an online payday loan lead generator operated by Blue Global Media of Scottsdale, Ariz., uses the adult film star Bridget the Midget as its official spokeswoman. And Discover Financial Services' "Peggy" character, which has garnered much attention in social media in recent months, is designed to be the embodiment of a poor customer service experience — the opposite of what most mascots are meant to convey.
In Discover's ads, Peggy works for the fictitious "bad" credit card company USA Prime Credit. Because so many consumers can relate to being treated poorly by a phone representative, the character has taken on a life of his own through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.