"No one automatically gives you respect just because you show up. You have to earn it."
- Lance Armstrong Brand building is like body building. Throw some muscle behind it and a stronger image is the result. One way that big companies drive brand recognition is to hire a famous person to represent them - the "muscle" behind the brand.
This can be an effective marketing strategy, even for small companies. But it has some risks.
Model Kate Moss, chosen to be the face of one of Chanel's perfumes, was fired because she was photographed snorting cocaine. Since she was hired for her integrity as well as her beauty, the deal dissolved when her reputation did.
|Photo courtesy of D'Angelo Brands|
|D'Angelo Brands is rolling the dice by using one-time Olympic golden boy Ben Johnson to promote its Cheetah energy drink.|
Chanel replaced her with Keira Knightley, a woman who has "kept her nose clean.”
The price of her face is reportedly $1 million per year.
Chanel garnered a great deal of unwanted media attention as the wounded party, but since "any publicity is good publicity," they weren't hurt too much. As for Ms. Moss, she didn't roll along stoned forever. After a stint in rehab, she's working again, but her reputation has been damaged by her actions.
Athletes are often chosen as icons - and not only for athletic wear or sports equipment. Tiger Woods has recently done testimonial-style radio spots in support of TLC Laser Eye Centres. Seems that he now has 20/15 vision and can play golf without contact lenses.
Woods is an excellent choice to represent this company because he is well known to their target market. When a highly respected athlete promotes a company, people listen and respond.
So, what if an athlete is not so well respected?
Ben Johnson, Canada's one-time Olympic golden boy, fell into instant infamy because of his steroid use and has never recovered from his mistake. Until now, that is.
Frank D'Angelo, president and CEO of D'Angelo Brands, a Mississauga-based food products company with about 300 employees, has hired Johnson to promote his newest energy drink - Cheetah Power Surge. D'Angelo makes the connection: "Ben was once the world's fastest runner. Cheetah is a fast runner.”
A television commercial, also found on the D'Angelo Brands website (www.dangelobrands.ca), shows Johnson and a cheetah running.
But D'Angelo also admits that they "play with words."
In a second commercial, D'Angelo, interviewing Johnson, asks: "Ben, when you run, do you cheetah?" Johnson answers: "Absolutely. I Cheetah all the time.”
He then raises a can of Cheetah Power Surge. Johnson's reputation as a cheater is reinforced.
Frank D'Angelo says that he believes Johnson deserves a second chance and he is hoping that Canadians agree and find a positive connection between his product and its promoter. But D'Angelo Brands stresses the "all-natural source of energy without caffeine" aspect of its drink.
Most Canadians still associate the runner with his use of steroids. This incongruity could be a problem. And Johnson has not been much in the news over the past 15 years, so his name doesn't mean much to the 18- to 30-year-olds that D'Angelo Brands is targeting. And for those who know the name, the association may not be a positive one.
It is a gutsy move to use Johnson. We'll know if D'Angelo's gamble will pay off when the campaign hits full stride and we see Cheetah take off. Or not.
A small or medium company can use a famous person to promote its product or brand. It takes a bit of creative thinking, mind you, but often deep pockets are not required.
The point of using a celebrity is to piggyback a brand to the existing, winning image of the person chosen. This person endorses this product, so by association, others who use it are winners too. That is the message. The messenger should be credible. Avoid using politicians.
Be sure that the celebrity used to promote your brand is well known and admired by your target market - the people you want and need to impress. A rap artist won't impress any seniors, but will wow certain teens and twentysomethings. The fit must be right. Seriously consider local over national.
Most small and medium companies would benefit greatly if the people in their area became customers.
A bakery in Winnipeg does not have a Maritime target market and does not need Rita MacNeil to gush over its cookies. But a basket of warm-from-the-oven muffins delivered to the desk of a morning-show radio host would boost business. The radio guy, talking appreciatively on the air about his weekly muffin delivery would make hungry commuters go out of their way for a warm, Blueberry-Banana Streusel Surprise. This is one way a local business can use a local celebrity to boost awareness and sales at an affordable price.
Soccer, baseball, hockey. When a business buys uniforms for local kids' teams, it also buys goodwill and exposure. The cost is usually low, and all season long, parents, kids and visitors see "Ginger's Grill" play and score. Guess where they'll head for their victory party? Some celebrities are only six years old.
In major centres, television personalities often have their hair styled and their clothing and jewelry supplied by local companies. When Ms. Evening News looks great, women watch the credits to find out where they can go for the same hair, earrings or suit.
Often a company's own happy customers are the best spokespeople. Testimonials, genuine and honest "thank you" letters go a long way toward boosting confidence in a brand. Use them on websites, in brochures and in sales kits. They should be current, so update them often, but don't remove the first one you ever got - it speaks to the longevity of your company.
If you believe a celebrity - local or larger-than-life - is the best way to build your brand image, then consider carefully. "The muscle" will only strengthen your company if the choice is an intelligent one. Six-year-old soccer players may be your only totally safe option.
(Brenda McMillan has more than 10 years of experience in advertising. She can be reached at email@example.com)