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Posts Tagged ‘Brand Ambassador’

The Pitfalls of Brand Personification

Steve Jobs Apple

In a quest to be all things to all people, brands can sometimes lose their way. They become lost in a miasma of dilution as they try to stretch their brand equity to appeal to every consumer, or branch out into new markets. Some, like Virgin, have managed this fairly successfully – let’s forget for the moment about Virgin Brides – while others, such as Cisco (which we wrote about recently) have fared less well. Virgin’s equity relies in part on the man behind the company, Sir Richard Branson. His affable qualities have appealed to both consumers and investors. The balance he maintains is a delicate one, driving the essence of the brand without ever overwhelming it.

In the world of luxury, companies have often used brand ambassadors. The watchmaker Breguet has long claimed that luminaries such as Napoleon, Churchill and Marie Antoinette wore their brand. Each of these characters had their flaws of course, not least the megalomaniacal Frenchman. However, when the person personifying the brand is also at the rudder of the ship, the situation can prove more complex. This was evident in March this year when master designer John Galliano was fired from his creative directorship at Dior, as well as from his role at his eponymous label.

Similarly affected by ramifications at the top has been Lagardère Group, run by Arnaud Lagardère, who inherited the company from his father. As well as owning a range of media assets, it also has a 7.5% stake in the defence contracting firm EADS. Recently the 51 year-old has taken up with a 20 year-old model by the name of Jade. A cutesy video for a glossy magazine shoot made its way online (see below). Any semblance of dignity the man maintained – already in question prior to this video – was lost. This may decide future business directions at the company. Arnaud is a keen sports enthusiast, at one point mulling a bid for the rights to the Tour de France. Any such wishful thinking must now be considered just that as shareholders are keen to refocus on existing assets. His overt publicity has cost him dear; Arnaud may now be at risk of losing some of his control over the company. Writes The Economist,

“Executives at EADS are dismayed to see their future boss behave like a nincompoop. “In Germany any manager who shot such a video would be finished in business,” says a person close to the company.”

And so we turn to Apple, which has been recently hit with the news that Steve Jobs will be stepping down from his current role. He will remain at the company as chairman of the board, and his ideas and personality will affect the company’s direction for several years still, but after that the company’s direction, and its brand equity, will be at a crossroads. The company has, even relative to its own stellar performance, recently been enjoying great success, briefly becoming the world’s largest public company. In managing this feat, it overtook Exxon Mobil. As The Economist pointed out, however, “oil remains a vital raw material” (though not for a great deal longer, admittedly), whereas Apple’s appeal is in “delighting customers”. A company that serves such a fickle master so directly is in danger of losing said appeal at any given moment. Last week, an editorial in the FT pointed out that an Apple without Steve Jobs at the helm will be a less irascible but also a less happy place, and hence perhaps less appealing to customers. The New York Times echoed such sentiments that weekend, with an article headlined “For Apple fans, departure of Jobs is personal”,

“…[P]eople love Apple products in a way that they do not love other products they use every day. And Mr. Jobs as chief executive has been uniquely connected to Apple’s creations.”

The article details personal consumer reactions to the news, which range from tearful incredulity to concern over future business inspiration and product innovation.

All of which goes to show that having an impresario at the top can benefit a company hugely for decades. Could Steve Jobs have made Apple as popular, while taking a slight back seat, a la Bill Gates, Howard Stringer, Howard Schultz or Jack Welch? Probably not. If he had, Apple wouldn’t be the company it is today. But one thing’s for sure, what it is today will not be what it is in the future, when Jobs’ influence has left and the company has to decide which path to take.

The birth of ‘anti’ sponsorship?

August 18, 2011 Leave a comment

The way celebrity endorsements normally work is that a brand will identify someone with a high profile who is respected by core consumers and who embodies what the brand is all about, or wants to be all about.

It’s not always as straightforward as it sounds.

Some brands have teamed up with the most unlikely partners, while others have learned the hard way that celebrities are human too and that means they can make mistakes and decisions that you don’t want your brand associated with.

Not what Nike, Gillette et al signed up for

However, some marriages are made in heaven and can even lead to lucrative co-branded products such as the Nike Air Jordan range that was much desired by a young Zeitgeist.

Given how much kudos or harm a celebrity endorsement can do, Zeitgeist was piqued to read that Abercrombie and Fitch had suggested that they could pay MTV to not allow characters from Jersey Shore to wear their brands as the association was damaging.

One of the inherent dangers of being an aspirational or fashionable brand that is not priced to make it all but inaccessible to the very lucky few is that you will be worn by undesirables who want your brand to rub off on them.

This, combined with the modern phenomenon of reality TV shows and the glorification of the minor celebrity with limited talent but a huge thirst for fame, can result in a brand receiving more exposure from accidental off-brand associations than their much crafted paid for work.

It is to mitigate this kind of damage – and to generate some buzz – that Abercrombie and Fitch have made their proposal.

While offering to pay someone to not associate with your brand might be a simple solution and a reversal of the traditional model of paying someone to endorse your brand, it isn’t particularly creative and Zeitgeist can’t help but wonder it could actually be dangerous.

Now that a precedent has been set, will we now see the smarter minor celebrities attempt to ‘extort’ lucrative ‘anti-sponsorship’ arrangements with brands who would want nothing to do with them.

With marketing budgets already modest, we hope not.

A Close Shave with Tennis Greatness

August 18, 2010 9 comments

Roger Federer, the world’s most successful tennis player with a staggering sixteen Grand Slams to his name, shows here why he is so great. This ad appeared on YouTube earlier this week from Gillette. It appears to be an unofficial edit from when Mr. Federer et al were breaking between shooting a commercial. The Wall Street Journal recently added to the mountain of editorial written over the past 18 months predicting Federer’s demise – Federer’s reaction was to win three more slams in that time, an achievement which most tennis players spend a career trying and failing to obtain – with coda that attempts an abrupt volte-face, perhaps having already learned from last year to never, ever count Federer out.

Your views on the authenticity of the shots in this ad are welcome. Is it a William Tell-like feat of extravagant excellence caught in a candid moment? Or a nice bit of CGI in a very constructed environment? Federer, according to Reuters, remains coy on the subject. Regardless, Zeitgeist is definitely playing tennis in a suit tonight…

UPDATE: The video has officially gone viral.

Luxury LVs Football

Louis Vuitton, like everyone else, is keenly aware that the World Cup is approaching. Zeitgeist has a habit – recently pointed out by a colleague over lunch – of rarely making statements that would encompass what the whole of Zeitgeist would think about a certain subject; much like the Holy Trinity, though we are many, we are one. E pluribus, unum. In this instance, the worlds of Zeitgeist have collided together.

Ogilvy Paris started the “Journeys” campaign for Louis Vuitton in 2007, and since then, brand ambassadors like Gorbachev, Sean Connery and tennis legends Andre Agassi and Steffi Graff have been featured. In it’s latest inception, three football phenoms – Maradona, Zidane and Pelé – are caught in an empty café playing table football together, while to the side sits monogrammed Vuitton luggage. In the spot below, Maradona introduces the clash of the titans between Zidane and Pelé. Vogue has more. To vote for who you think will win, click here. It’s a timely piece, one that fits nicely into the rest of the campaign, and the interactive feature is a nice touch. Could they have done more though? There’s nothing on Vuitton’s Twitter or YouTube accounts about these new ads yet.

The company’s holding group, LVMH, meanwhile, have launched a new website “that allows luxury brands to showcase high-quality branded film content against a more sophisticated design aesthetic and insider editorial voice that luxury-goods consumers have come to expect”. PSFK has more. If you’d like to do your own little bit for LVMH and tell them about your perceptions of luxury brands as well as your Twitter use, click here.

Tiger burns bright in new Nike spot

Nike’s new spot for Tiger Woods, ahead of his return back to the greens and fairways later today, is an interesting one. It features a monochrome vision of Tiger as he looks into the camera, while in a voiceover his late father questions what the future will bring for him, now the skeletons are out of the proverbial closet. Zeitgeist reported on Tiger’s indiscretions before, and while brands like Accenture have sought to distance themselves, Nike have stood firm. Brand Republic has more. At what point do we distinguish between the athlete or performer, and their personal life? What do you think of the new ad?

Does retirement beckon for Ronald McDonald?

Zeitgeist has always been somewhat midly peturbed by Ronald McDonald, not exclusively due to the fact that no matter which McDonald’s in the world Zeitgeist chooses to frequent, Ronald is unfailingly always at the very same one. That and the fact that he seems to enjoy sitting by himself on benches, smiling to himself.

For many however, Ronald is an enduring mascot, a brand ambassador like no other. The man has presided over McDonald’s profligate – but morally questionable and nutritionally unhealthy – past since 1963, as well as its more lean, green present form. It still commands massive clout as far as promotions are concerned, particularly for film and TV.

Now though, Corporate Accountability International  – whose previous targets include, Nestlé, GE and, fittingly, Target – has designed a website called Retire Ronald that states it is time for Mr. McDonald to join other brand mascots such as the Marlboro Man and Joe the Camel and stop recruiting children to unhealthy acts.

Comparing fast food to cigarettes might seem like a stretch, and Zeitgeist believes it is. To say that obesity rates have shot up in the US since the introduction of Mr. McDonald and directly connect the two in a latent manner – which the site does – is naiive and unrepresentative of fact. Creating a scapegoat will not solve the problem of overweight people in the US. It does also not account for the fact that people in that country are no longer getting fatter. “[S]cientific evidence continues to mount that McDonald’s marketing to kids is no less than commercial exploitation”; well, unfortunately, yes, marketing is exploitative. Zeitgeist would prefer to see as much effort put into policies and websites promoting healthy living, rather than focussing on the removal of an imaginary plenipotentiary, successful as it may be. AdAge currently features a poll on the matter.

Brand ambassador fail – The end of a fruitful relationship

Reputations can be hard to maintain online. Habitat learnt this the hard way last summer when it inexplicably started tweeting about their various furnishings along with the hashtag for the protests in Iran. To say that people were not amused is an understatement.

The “It” girl (if “It” referred to “don’t touch it, even with an extremely long pole”) Peaches Geldof was today fired by lingerie retailer Miss Ultimo, who have her featured in their current campaign. The reason for this abrupt contract termination stems from a recent night of pleasure she undertook with one Ben Mills, who thought it best to document the scene (NSFW). Brand Republic reports a spokeswoman as saying, “Miss Ultimo is a brand geared towards a young female audience and, as a company, we have a social responsibility to ensure we are promoting only positive role models that young women can aspire to.”

Quite what they were thinking would happen when hiring someone of Peaches’ sybaritic tendencies is anyone’s guess. The insight is that brands need to think about their ambassador not just in terms of how much coverage and awareness to the brand they will bring, but about what form that will take. It sounds simple, however in this instance it clearly was not fully thought out. Zeitgeist suggests tennis star Daniela Hantuchova next time.

The Fearful Symmetry of Tiger Woods

December 1, 2009 3 comments

From the Winter 2009 Zeitgeist…

The Fearful Symmetry of Tiger Woods

Brand ambassadors are nothing new. Napoleon (seen above in a casual pose) has long been such an ambassador for the watchmaker Breguet, having worn one during his short (for he was short) life. But what happens when the real world conflicts with the manufactured artifice? Are all of Andre Agassiʼs triumphs now overshadowed by drug addiction? What of recent rumours that Tony the Tiger is diabetic?

Tiger Woodsʼ indiscretions have highlighted such concerns; what happens when an athlete who is not only a champion in his chosen field, but also seemingly the epitome of a gentleman in his private life, turns out to be less than perfect? Tigerʼs presence – a young man of mixed ethnicity in a sport dominated by old, rotund white guys obsessed with the faux exclusivity of country clubs – was a huge statement in of itself. It was for all these reasons though that some major blue-chip brands chose to invest in his good name. Who can forget the fantastic Nike spot of yesteryear?

While his namesake currently graces the Spirit Airlines website, Tiger can unfortunately no longer be found on the Accenture homepage. For a company to so abruptly end such a sponsorship is an enormous blow to both parties and both brands. Industry Standard wrote, “Tiger has literally become the sole face, the strategic embodiment, the business essence of Accenture, the $22 billion global IT, outsourcing and business consultancy proclaim[ing]: ʻWe know what it takes to be a Tiger.ʼ Everything about that slogan has now become a PR debacle, comedian’s punch line and perplexing psychological  examination…”.

Tiger is now on an “indefinite” leave from golf and the brands that rely on the sportsman solely for his golfing prowess are sure to be affected. Electronics Arts will have a hard time selling the umpteenth version of the Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise if the eponymous player does not compete. TV ratings for golf tournaments will similarly suffer, according to the FT and New York Times. Nike, PepsiCo and AT&T are all of a ʻwait and seeʼ mindset. Gillette will “remove its Woods-related advertising for now” in order to respect his much sought-after privacy. Gilletteʼs triumvirate has suffered of late. Thierry Henry is also mired in scandal after denying Ireland a place in the World Cup by somewhat guiding a ball with his hand at a crucial point in the game. Gillette has denied the act will affect his contract. Roger Federer seems to be the only one currently untainted, though not wishing to jinx him, Zeitgeist will move swiftly on…

Ultimately, such crises can be fleeting. Michael Phelps, pictured with a bong and promptly dropped by Kelloggʼs, will not be forgotten for winning a Fort Knox-worth of gold medals in Beijing. NFL player Michael Vick organised brutal dogfights in his free time, but returned to the game to cheers from the fickle crowd. There may be lasting impact this time, however. As the Zeitgeist team have said before, if caught, the best practice is to immediately admit culpability, express sincere contriteness and take ownership of the situation, as Accenture have done.