What Do These Real People Think of Ads Starring Real People?

'Adweek' put three marketing campaigns to the test

Brands have been rethinking their use of costly celebrity endorsements in light of the soft economy and stars' overexposure and embarrassing slip-ups. At the same time, we're seeing companies like Red Lobster and Ford turn to ordinary people to promote their products. In the age of user-generated content and transparency, real people just make the brand seem more genuine and authentic, the thinking goes. But if people have a hard time believing celebrities use the products they endorse, do they necessarily buy the real-people sale? Adweek took to the streets to find out what everyday people think of the non-actor, non-celebrity pitchman.


Red Lobster The seafood chain had actual chefs ("grill masters") from its restaurants extol the virtues of their cooking styles and fresh ingredients.

Reactions ¬

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Luis, 54


Q: Did the chef come off as an actual Red Lobster chef?

A: I don’t know—I think he came off as more of an actor.

Kelsie Marie, 17


Q: Would you watch this commercial?

A: Probably not. I’d probably change the channel.

Nicholas, 24


Q: Would you go to Red Lobster after seeing this ad?

A: Of course. Yeah. Shrimp and biscuits!

Christopher, 37

Interior Designer

Q: Would you watch this ad if it came on during your favorite show?

A: I’d probably tune it out and play on my iPad.

Ford An actual customer seemed stunned to find himself before a gaggle of reporters, who grilled him about features like fuel efficiency.

Reactions ¬

John, 39

Fashion Designer

Q: Can you tell us what that commercial was about?

A: I don’t know—some d-bag trying to buy a car.

Kai, 29


Q: What do you think the advertiser was trying to communicate?

A: That even cheap people can also buy a Ford.

Cory, 30


Q: Did you believe the person in the ad was not an actor?

A: I don’t know. Everything is scripted, even reality TV. That’s why I don’t really watch TV anymore.

Robert, 53


Q: WWhat did you think of the person in the ad?

A: He was all right, but he wouldn’t convince me to buy a car. I thought he was an actor.


Febreze Ordinary people were pulled off streets, blindfolded, then asked to describe the scent of a filthy room treated with the fabric freshener.

Reactions ¬

Jamie, 26

Fabric Sourcer

Q: Do you think the person was actually pulled off the street and not an actor?

A: I have trouble believing she was a real person.

Glenn, 40


Q: If this ad came on, would you watch or change the channel?

A: I’ve watched it before and I’ll watch it again.

Alisha, 39

PR Exec

Q: What did you think about this ad?

A: I actually get a kick out of these ads. I think they are fun.

Esther, 48

Guidance Counselor

Q: Did you believe that these were real people pulled off the street?

A: Well, they look less Hollywood. In other words, they were more believable and more identifiable with a normal citizen.

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