Let's say you see an ad that features an actor or actress you've seen before. Are you seeing a celebrity spokesperson? Perhaps. It's probably true that more people are sort of, kind of, a little bit famous now than at any point in history. So "celebrity" is in the eye of the fan. All of this comes into play in a recent series of ads from FedEx.
Click here to view video The first ad: Two guys are sitting in an office. "She wore white?" says the one wearing glasses. (There's a brief clip of a wedding.) "She … put her past behind her," the other guy replies in a staccato deadpan. "But you're missing the point of the story."
Back to the first ad: Carell continues: "The groom's father hires him to run the mismanaged shipping department of the family business."
"A week in Oahu."
"Not bad," Carell says with a faint hint of impatience. "Keep up. The kid turns to FedEx Ground. They give him affordable nationwide b-to-b delivery with a money-back guarantee, and he gives Daddy dearest a high-quality, low-cost lesson in who's the boss."
The other guy mulls this over. "Who is the boss?"
"The kid is now—"
"—the kid is now the boss," Carell sounds just slightly more impatient.
"That's the story?"
The ad closes with titles: "Need reliable, affordable ground shipping? Don't worry. There's a FedEx for that," and then a FedEx logo.
Further digression: It occurs to me, having faithfully reproduced this back-and-forth, that the key to these ads is, in fact, the timing and delivery of the actors, which I can't really capture in writing. Carrell is fast and vaguely on edge, the other guy is slow and clueless. Does that help? I didn't think so.
Click here to view video The second ad: The same pair, standing in an office setting. "Schultz never knew there were tunnels?" Clueless is asking, as we cut to a quick shot of Hogan's Heroes. "He didn't know," Carrell says. "But you're missing the point of the story." This time the story involves an entrepreneur who forgot to ship a package, but rushes it to a FedEx center where "they give his small-business package the big-business treatment" (which means, I gather, that they shipped it). Clueless interjects with questions like, "Did he know about the radio in the coffee pot?" Carrell: "He knew nothing. Now, focus."
Click here to view video Third ad: They're in a restaurant this time. Clueless: "So, the Bundt cake was bad?" Carrell: "The Bundt cake was abysmal. But you're missing the point of the story." The point of the story is that a sales manager who happens to be the only person at a big meeting not to contract food poisoning from the Bundt cake ("He had the Danish. Stay with me.") uses fedex.com to coordinate all his ill colleagues' packages, getting confirmations on his PDA, etc. "He's got a PDA?" Clueless asks. "Everybody's got a PDA," Carrell says, but reiterates that the point is that the packages arrive and the guy "triumphs over adversity." Clueless thinks this over. "I don't have a PDA." Carrell: "Check please."
Does it deliver? I like these ads, and I'm sure part of the reason is that I just like Carrell, as I've already made clear. So, does his appearance in these spots count as a celebrity endorsement? The Daily Show has a pretty dedicated following, and it gets lots of ink these days (Jon Stewart was just profiled in The New Yorker). On the other hand, its audience isn't particularly large in raw numbers, and the press release FedEx sent me doesn't even name him or the other actor. And who is the other actor? He seems familiar, but I can't place him. I'm sure some readers out there will know and will make an argument that he's a bigger star than Carrell (although I gather Carrell is a supporting player on the new Julia Louis-Dreyfus sitcom). Maybe the answer is that by now the whole notion of celebrity has been so watered down that the concept of the celebrity spokesperson is outdated: Pick your own stars and celebrities, there's no shortage of choices.