Celebrities in Tech Commercials: Winners and Losers

Consumer tech commercials featuring a celebrity need more than just a famous face if you want to sell an iPhone or Samsung's Next Big Thing. Here are five tech ads with celebrities like Lebron James and Bono that succeed by showing us the product in action and making us feel good, and five that just make us feel empty (sorry Malkovich).

tech celebrity TV commercials

Tech Commercials Featuring Celebs

What makes a consumer tech commercial effective? Hiring a famous face certainly helps -- though it's not a necessity. The best ads are uplifting and showcase a celebrity who is genuinely excited to use the product, and maybe that excitement will rub off on us regular folks. If the celebrity is there for an easy paycheck, viewers will smell it right away. Here are five commercials that smell like a rose and five that stink (One does both).

U2 -- Apple iPod + iTunes

Winner: U2 -- Apple iPod + iTunes (2004)

This one goes back some years. But this vibrant marriage of music and technology helped propel the already-hot iPod to an even higher level in 2004. U2 was really promoting itself and its album "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" but Apple was happy to play along to help push the iPod and iTunes brands. Talk about a win-win.

Lebron James -- Samsung Galaxy Note II

Winner: Lebron James -- Samsung Galaxy Note II (2012)

The Samsung Galaxy Note II has to compete with King Lebron's ego as he goes about his day and prepares to win himself a championship. Not an easy task, but Samsung's king-size smartphone is not overshadowed. This ad deftly shows how a smartphone travels with you as the ultimate communication and media sidekick. The Note's specific features (the camera, use of the stylus, texting, videos) are demonstrated throughout, but are woven into the narrative so naturally you forget you're watching a commercial.

Kevin Bacon -- Logitech Revue with Google TV

Winner: Kevin Bacon -- Logitech Revue with Google TV (2010)

Ok so Google TV never got off the ground, but this is a funny ad where Kevin Bacon plays a creepy guy who is obsessed with … Kevin Bacon. And he can access all the Bacon movies he wants using his Logitech Revue HDTV companion box with Google TV. This one's all about Bacon's performance. It's a shame Google TV didn't perform nearly as well.

Penelope Cruz – Nintendo 3DS

Winner: Penelope Cruz – Nintendo 3DS (2012)

This is a cute and entertaining spot for the Nintendo 3DS portable game console featuring a giddy Penelope Cruz and her – dare I say hotter—sister, Monica. Because this is a gaming device for teenage boys, having two sexy sisters spar over Super Mario Brothers is a good choice. Plus, the Cruz sisters really appear to be playing the games and having a good time. Seeing Penelope dressed up as Mario at the end is a nice comedic touch.

Gwen Stefani – Windows Phone

Winner: Gwen Stefani – Windows Phone (2012)

Here's an example of an appealing ad for a product that isn't selling. It's similar to the Lebron James Samsung ad in that it shows a famous person using a smartphone to get through life; this time we have singer/fashionista/mother Gwen Stefani using Windows Phone for work (photos, email, clothing design specs, song lyrics) and play (talking to her kids). However, as pleasant as this ad may be, it's still proof that hiring celebrities does not guarantee sales, which is why another Windows Phone ad made the losers list.

Jessica Alba – Windows Phone

Loser: Jessica Alba – Windows Phone (2012)

The Windows Phone ads tend to play it too safe. Case in point: beautiful but bland Jessica Alba, also in an ad using the same template as Stefani. Not to pick on Alba, but she fits the Microsoft mold of the non-threatening, family-oriented, busy person. The ad may highlight Windows Phone features (recipes, calendar, Kid's Corner for games), but it is not cool. Maybe Microsoft has given up on "cool", but ads about the demands of motherhood are not going to take down the iPhone, even ones with pretty actresses.

John Malkovich and others - iPhone Siri

Loser: John Malkovich and others - iPhone Siri (2011)

Siri, Apple's baked-in voice recognition service, arrived with the iPhone 4S in 2011 and Apple wasted no time in overhyping the feature in celebrity-soaked TV spots. Original ads featured actors such as John Malkovich, Samuel L. Jackson, and Zooey Deschanel all looking bored and entitled as they engage with an exaggerated version of Siri that answers any question quickly and clearly. You knew all bets were of when Siri tells Malkovich a joke. Lawsuits followed claiming the Siri ads are deceptive. This is Apple at its most manipulative.

Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates -- Microsoft

Loser: Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates -- Microsoft (2008)

What's the deal with this commercial? The Seinfeld-Gates ad will go down as one of the most awkward and aimless in history. The setting is a shoe store where billionaires Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld sit around and talk nonsense. There's no point, no specific product being endorsed and the jokes -- if you can call them that -- go nowhere. Viewers were baffled and this commercial about nothing only exacerbated Microsoft's image as an out of touch and complacent company.

Timothy Hutton  --  Groupon

Loser: Timothy Hutton -- Groupon (2011)

Back in 2011, red-hot Groupon had a big chance to impress a global audience with its first Super Bowl ad. And its attempt at satire missed the mark by about 100 miles. Over images of Tibet, actor Timothy Hutton's concerned voice warns us about political oppression. Then the commercial abruptly changes to comedy with Hutton gushing about discounts on Tibetan food through Groupon. Needless to say, the ad left a bad taste in peoples' mouths.

David Beckham -- Motorola Aura

Loser: David Beckham -- Motorola Aura (2009)

The ladies will no doubt like this slow-burn of an ad from 2009 featuring soccer pro/celebrity David Beckham as a shirtless cyborg, but this ad comes off as a condescending vanity project. Beckham is the star here -- the $2,000 Motorola Aura he's holding is just a prop. Maybe this is class envy speaking, but Beckham's navel-gazing (literally and figuratively) is excessive. Makes me glad that the ultra-expensive Motorola Aura line of phones was dead on arrival.