Larry King. A TV Endorsement Sell Out?

Watching TV last week, my family was surprised to see an ad come up with Larry King in what looks like an interview format with an 800# underneath. Surprise turned to gasps of horror as it became clear he was hawking BreathGemz. Sadly neither King nor BreathGemz come out winners.

The problem for Larry isn’t that he took money to endorse a product – there’s a thousand ways he could succeed in a endorsement that would leverage his credibility without hurting it – even in direct response television (DRTV). But here he sold his credibility in a hack execution of the spot – complete with microphone so we don’t forget who he is and his young wife sitting limply beside him. (I only identified his wife later because it wasn’t the least bit clear in a real world experience watching the spot.)

When he was in the interview chair on CNN, everything about King was credible. He reflected us and asked the questions we would have wanted to ask if we’d been there.

Now, he’s in the chair again, but this time telling us how BreathGemz makes it possible to “get close to the people you’re interviewing”. (Creeeeeeeepy.)

The problem for BreathGemz is that this is such a tacky ad that I think they are wasting a part of the money they paid to get Larry King (or the piece of the company).

I know the company will say “he sells a lot”. But the key question is: does he sell as much as he should? My estimate would be that they are getting less than 1/2 the impact of the endorsement that should have been.

(Interestingly, coverage from last April tells us the people starting this company brought out BreathAsure in the 1990s then went bankrupt after losing a claims lawsuit and BBB action. Here’s a thought provoking discussion of their situation and he links to the court findings including admission of the fact that scientific evidence showed their product wasn’t effective at fighting bad breath.)

And it’s bad advertising. The ad gives no motivating reason to buy BreathGems instead of, well, any of the other hundred choices at the retail counter. (Oh, that’s right, it has a liquid core of parseley seed oil. Do I care? There’s no reason given in the ad and I’ve never heard of this oil’s magical halitosical properties.)

Reading the settlement of the prior lawsuit, my guess is they’re trying to imply what they really can’t claim. So, that makes the spot quite soft and unclear.

What’s with the CNN team after they retire? It’s not just Larry King. Bob Losure has started to appear selling gold and skin care. Bella Shaw had tremendous potential, then moved to hosting a range of infomercials where the producers mis-used her talent and credibility.

I pick out this group because they start with sterling credentials that should deliver great advertiser value without destroying that reputation. But then, creative failings at the advertiser (or their production company/agency) drain the solid credibility from the endorsement appearance.

It doesn’t have to be. But whatever system is drawing in the CNN team is taking them in questionable directions – they need to be more careful.

Out of all this, I’m saddest for Larry King. When someone retires I hope they make it through their retirement with money, but also with their credibility intact. Unless this is quickly cancelled, King won’t.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

About Doug Garnett
Doug Garnett is an expert introducing innovative consumer products and services to market while driving higher return on innovation investment. His career has been spent in innovation and he is the president of Protonik, LLC - an innovation consultancy focused on marketing and innovation. Prior to founding Protonik, he was founder and CEO of ad agency Atomic Direct.

2 Responses to Larry King. A TV Endorsement Sell Out?

  1. DP Durban says:

    I spent many moments with Larry (and his wife) at annual events here in San Diego –
    he has so much wealth and was so proud of his career and place in TV history –
    it is dumbfounding he is doing cheesy DR – informercial programming — the bigger
    they are the more they fall down !

    • Doug Garnett says:

      Thanks for the comment. I wonder if there isn’t this surprising thing I find often – that people who are outstandingly exceptional in one field are blind to their weaknesses in making choices in other fields (like how to manage a public persona after retiring).

      Choreographer Martha Graham has noted how often she’s surprised that people succeed in one field then develop a self-image that they are equally capable in any field. But in truth, their success was superb – but limited to the one fundamental act that they developed so thoroughly.

      Somehow, this feels like a combination of these two might be what’s going on.

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