When celebrity endorsement gets old

SOFT SELL: Simon Baker in The Mentalist, who has featured in television advertisements promoting the ANZ-National Bank merger.
SOFT SELL: Simon Baker in The Mentalist, who has featured in television advertisements promoting the ANZ-National Bank merger.

With a nod to last night's Fair Go Ad Awards, it's remarkable how many television stars are currently being used to try to sell us things – and not always with great success.

After the unfortunate outcome of having that nice Richard Long encourage people to invest in Hanover Finance, at least the ad agencies are now generally only celebrifying things that can't empty our bank accounts. But have a go at second-guessing the choice of The Mentalist to sell the ANZ-National Bank merger to bank customers, and the logic is a bit shy.

The twinkly and charismatic Simon Baker is still playing the ill-mannered latter-day Sherlock Holmes on TV2, Tuesdays – this week using his magicians' repertoire of misdirection and his micro-reading of body language and clues to solve another murder, the key to which was tiny holes in the corks of cheap bottles of Burgundy. This is one of television's most reliably entertaining light crime series, and Baker possibly the sexiest man on telly.

But why did the ad agency think that having an Australian playing an American pretending to be a psychic while double-dunking teabags and saying enigmatic things about "the power of two" would appeal to New Zealand bank customers?

From this writer's National-banking friends' perspective, it doesn't. As far as they're concerned, the ANZ has murdered the black stallion and that's a crime that not even The Mentalist sleuth Patrick Jane can solve. This campaign led to a slew of predatory and generally quite witty ads from some of the other banks, so it's an ill wind.

Whittaker's has scored a coup in getting Nigella Lawson to scoff its new extra-rich chocolate and say disparaging things about the Swiss. There's something hypnotic and borderline R-rated about watching Nigella scoff anything, as has been globally acknowledged. This ad has the added bonus of planting in the subconscious the thought that if only one were to eat chocolate with enough sensual enthusiasm, one could become a glamorous domestic goddess oneself, instead of just fat.

We don't yet know if Eva Longoria's dancing has boosted supermarket catfood sales, or just made male viewers sigh a lot. But sales, rather than viewer enjoyment, are the ultimate test of a good ad. For next year's Fair Go finals, it will be fascinating to see if, in a country given to barista-worship, Ken and Ken, Camp Mother and co have succeeded in convincing people that instant's OK again, and possibly even bloody gorgeous.

The Dominion Post