In 2009, we praised Nikon for signing man-of-the-moment Ashton Kutcher as its spokesman. In fact, the actor had thrown himself so fully into the high profile Nikon ads, we wondered if Kutcher's fans would "see him as a sellout or a shill, and will his own brand of goofy, boy-next-door purity suffer?"
What a difference two years make. Now, the latest Kutcher Nikon ad to hit TV screens has us wondering if Nikon's pitch man has suddenly become a liability.
For two years, Nikon has teased audiences with an odd mix of Kutcher ads in which the actor is playing coy, teasing fans, and being the generally adorable mop-headed dork that made him a household name and Mr. Demi Moore.
Though he's always been a bit of a flirt in its ads, Nikon's latest Kutcher spot shows the actor (sans wedding ring) going girl crazy, including muscling in on another man's girl. This might all be water under the bridge if every supermarket checkout wasn't lined with blaring headlines announcing the sordid tales of the married actor's infidelities.
What's "Moore," Kutcher's marriage to Moore has been high profile, with many knowing about the actor's past bold claims about his fidelity.
Audiences are certainly finding the new, poorly-timed Nikon ad jarring. Each time the commercial plays on TV, Twitter lights up with the kind of brand associations that must cause Nikon marketers to place their faces in the their palms and sigh.
Meanwhile, the same magazines that are stoking the flames of the scandal are latching onto the ad.
US Magazine points out the ad under the headline, "Ashton Kutcher Lures 4 Girls to His Hotel Room in Eerie Nikon Ad." The ill-timed Nikon-Kutcher ad is even making news in Slovakia, where Pravda points out (unfoundedly) that Moore is outraged by the ad.
Nikon's current branding is heavily mortgaged to Kutcher. Its splashy websites all feature the actor and its marketing campaigns with vanity URLs Ashton.nikonusa.com and Nikonusa.com/ashton. So there is probably little the brand can do in the short-term but say cheese and bear it. But pulling the latest ad might be a good idea.
The Kutcher-Nikon pairing seems to underscore a recent Ace Metrix study that found "celebrity ads do not perform any better than non-celebrity ads, and in some cases they perform much worse… whether or not a celebrity endorses a product was unimportant in determining whether an ad resonated with viewers."