April 04, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT

She sings! She dances! Sarah Jessica Parker clearly enjoys being a Gap girl. So what to make of the recent announcement that the sexy, City-less star is being succeeded as the face of the clothing chain by an actual girl, 17-year-old, up-and-coming soul singer Joss Stone?

Don’t get your khakis in a bunch! Despite erroneous reports that Parker was axed prematurely, the deal that Gap announced last May was for a two-season campaign, which was extended to three. Switching to Stone is simply a function of natural spokesperson selection. Because in the big-money world of celeb product endorsements, it’s all about which star is right for which product. And getting that right can take some pretty deep — and expensive — digging.

”The first criteria that we look at is, Does this person have a strong sense of individual style?” says Gap spokesperson Erica Archambault, which is why both Parker and Stone were fitted for Gap campaigns — ”trendsetter” Parker for sophisticated pink layers, and ”cute” Stone for youth-skewing jeans. To ensure that Star A is a good match for Sweater B, advertisers rely on costly celeb-rating services like Q Scores and E-Poll to deliver extensive, census-like figures about the recognition and likability of about 2,000 celebs. (Q Scores’ most likable personality? Tom Hanks, of course. Tops among kids ages 6 to 11: Would you believe Extreme Makeover: Home Edition‘s Ty Pennington? And polarizing blondes? Ellen DeGeneres, Britney Spears, and Madonna.) E-Poll generates E-Scores, which, among other things, rate stars on specific traits, like ”unique” and ”stylish.” Though overall awareness of Stone is still low, she scores high for being ”talented” and ”attractive” — and so has the statistical makings of a breakout.

Even an acne-treatment infomercial gets the same treatment. The spots for Proactiv zit cream rely on the true-life (and true-zit-filled-photo) testimonials of stars like Jessica Simpson, P. Diddy, and Alicia Keys. ”We measure the heck out of them before we sign them because these are multimillion-dollar agreements,” says Greg Renker, cofounder of Proactiv distributor Guthy-Renker. ”The people you find have to be convincing.”

True, there are occasions when research won’t help. ”Sometimes you want someone who’s not hot,” says Lisa Bifulco of the Kaplan Thaler Group ad agency. ”George Hamilton was perfect for Ritz [Chips].” Hamilton is so off-the-radar, he doesn’t even have an E-Score. ”The B- or C-list celebrity,” says Bifulco, ”can be appropriate and effective. . . .But who wouldn’t want to work with Brad Pitt?”

Indeed, the ”physically fit” Pitt has become one of Madison Avenue’s most desired pitchmen, especially after the one-time-only airing of his Heineken spot during the Super Bowl. Because of it, agencies now eagerly expect A-listers to make the jump from overseas commercials to Catherine Zeta-Jones-style U.S. ubiquity. ”Zeta-Jones got one of the biggest commercial deals in history,” says celebrity broker Doug Shabelman, of Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing, of her 2002 signing with T-Mobile. As the face of the then-nascent brand, ”glamorous” Zeta-Jones has given the company a big boost — without hurting her own image one bit. As a result, says Shabelman, ”actors who wouldn’t even touch U.S. campaigns are now realizing that unless they have an established brand name, they’re going to have to work very hard to compete.”

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