Brand endorsements: Any famous face won’t do…
Posted by
Tumisang Matubatuba at 14:00

Sports brands and athletes have formed powerful partnerships in the past. Adidas and Under Armour have used athlete endorsements to great effect. Nike's partnership with Michael Jordan is well-known and successful. These collaborations make sense to the consumer, the athlete and the brand. They leverage the aspiration and emotional benefits of the brand in a way that consumers enjoy.

Celebrity endorsements are common practice for all kinds of brands, but many of these endorsements make no sense at all. Sticking a famous face onto your packaging or into a marketing campaign may have worked before, in a time when consumers were passive and just accepted whatever a brand did, but today's consumers are more aware, critical and wary of what brands do and say.

The evolution has begun: brands who continue to do this are just throwing their money into a bottomless pit.


Imagine a banker trying to sell you the latest basketball shoe by Reebok, or a lawyer advising you on what type of USN supplement to take. The mere thought of this creates cognitive dissonance, and yet brands believe that because Shaq eats Oreos we'll all come running. Warren Buffet wouldn't influence my decision when purchasing athletic apparel, but I would take his word as gold if I were choosing an investment bank. It really is that simple. If endorsements aren't relevant they achieve nothing. And yet they continue to happen.

Many reasons for this exist - laziness, lack of consumer understanding and archaic thinking. In sports-mad South Africa, marketers love to try and force a relationship where there is no natural reason for it to exist.  During the 2010 World Cup, for example, brands featured South African footballers in the most bizarre settings. One worth highlighting was the Simphiwe Tshabalala relationship with The Fish & Chips Co.: as the "O-fish-al Ambassador".

When McDonald's and Lebron James pair up, or when Christiano Ronaldo is the face of a KFC campaign, one begins to question the insight and strategy behind such deals. And this problem doesn't only plague fast food brands. Counter-top manufacturer Silestone has had NBA stars appear in their adverts, Head and Shoulders is infamous for sticking popular faces onto their campaigns.

Sports stars aren't always the wrong choice…

Certainly there have been some successful campaigns which didn't quite align, namely: The George Foreman Grill. But how many "George Foreman Grill" cases can you count? There is room for athletes and non-sports brands to co-exist, but it requires more thought on the part of the marketer than just choosing someone for being famous.

When brands can align their values, image, personality and tone with that of an athlete who embodies these same ideals: that connection transcends into the public with ease. Think about if your brand were a person: the brand, consumer and endorser would all get along well if they were left on a desert island together. It may be an abstract idea, but it paints the reality of what a "dream team" should be.

Nespresso did this excellently with George Clooney, Maria Sharapova works well with Canon PowerShot digital camera, and Bill Cosby and Jell-O were a dream team back in the day. The celebrity endorsing your brand should embody the kind of life your brand offers in a credible and authentic way. It should also 'feel right' from a personality point of view. The poster boy just won't do anymore.

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