Good news for Patrick Stewart: television commercials with celebrity voice-overs are most effective when people recognize the voice--but can't quite put a name to it. Odd but true, according to a study that will appear in the Journal of Consumer Research later this year. Researchers studied reactions to TV commercials with actors David Duchovny, Donald Sutherland, David Hyde Pierce and Willem Dafoe voicing pitches for Sprint, Volvo, Lipton and Qwest, respectively. The commercial watchers' prior attitudes toward the celebrity influenced how much they liked or disliked the brand, but surprisingly, the celebrity endorsements evoked stronger feelings for the brand when viewers weren't sure to whom the familiar voice belonged.
"When they recognize the celebrity, it seems potentially manipulative, and they wind up overcompensating. But when they don't recognize the celebrity, they generalize over to the brand," says the University of Washington Business School's Mark Forehand, who ran the study with Andrew Perkins of Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Management. The take-away for marketers? Simple enough: hire someone affable with a distinctive voice but who won't be easily named. Calling all B listers. --By Barbara Kiviat