Sorry, June Squibb. Although the actress won raves for her performance in Nebraska and she’s nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, only a measly 4% of Americans even know she exists.
But at least she’s not alone. Proof that the Oscars aren’t just a popularity contest: lots of the actor-category front-runners are actually pretty much unknowns.
According to data from the Celebrity DBI index, a service that helps brands figure out which celebs would work best as spokespeople, Sandra Bullock, Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper are the best known individuals in in each race — actress, actor and the two supportings — with nearly all Americans recognizing the name or face of the first three, based on a national survey. (Well, Cooper’s only at about two-thirds awareness, but he’s still loads ahead of the rest of his category.)
Though movie buffs may not believe it, some of the most famous and acclaimed actors in the country don’t get anywhere close to 100% recognition. Even Meryl Streep and Matthew McConaughey only have awareness levels in the mid-80s. (Captain Phillips’ Barkhad Abdi doesn’t even register. Then again, he’s still nominated for an Oscar, so you can’t pity the guy too much.)
(MORE: What Makes an Oscar Winner)
But, as Celebrity DBI spokesperson Kathy Gardner explains, that’s not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to getting an endorsement deal. After charting awareness levels, the service looks at the degree to which those respondents — the people who are aware of the celebrity’s existence — think that person is likeable, noteworthy, influential, jealous-worthy, trendy, trustworthy and a good product spokesperson. And as it often turns out, the less a person is known, the higher they score.
Take Lupita Nyong’o, for example: though only one-tenth of people are aware of her, she scores higher than Julia Roberts in every category except likeability and influence — and even those are a difference of just a few points.
“What you see with people with low awareness scores, you tend to see that their scores are higher. If only 10% of the population knows that person, chances are that those are the niche film followers. They know [Nyong'o] for her Oscar-nominated performance, so they’re more likely to have a higher opinion” explains Gardner. “The more people who know someone, the more likely you are to get the outliers who say ‘Oh, she dumped so and so, I don’t like her.’”
That means that a niche or luxury brand might do well to choose someone who’s less of a star for an endorsement deal. Nyong’o has already proven that through with deals with brands like Miu Miu. In fact, she’s one of the most endorsement-valuable stars on the whole list. (The least valuable for an endorsement is Jonah Hill, for the record.) Plus, Gardner points out, an up-and-comer like Nyong’o will typically cost way less to hire than someone like the frontrunner Sandra Bullock, who is not only nearly universally recognized, but also the most likeable, most influential and most trusted. Basically, no matter what happens at the actually Oscars, Sandy wins.
Bradley Cooper, meanwhile, has the life we most wish were ours, and Jennifer Lawrence is the most trendsetting — which will make at least one person happy. After all, just because you work for a survey company doesn’t mean you can’t have your own preferences, as Kathy Gardner proves: “How can only 35% of people know who Jennifer Lawrence is?” she says. “I could cry.”