Brands the world over, seek to identify with top celebrities for endorsement, all in a bid to increase the level of brand awareness and increase sales as well. Celebrities become brand ambassadors and use their status in the society to promote a product, service or charity, and sometimes they appear as promotional models. This act has become a global phenomenon and assumed paramount importance in many countries where celebrities are given the status of demigods by their admirers.
Celebrities are extremely important and valuable to brands. They wield enormous power and can contribute to making and breaking brands. Celebrity endorsement transfers the personality and status of the celebrity as successful, wealthy, and distinctive, directly to the brand. Other personality attributes that the celebrity may have such as glamour, beauty, talent, and style will also be ultimately linked with the brand. More recently, brands have begun attempting to quantify and qualify the use of celebrities in their marketing campaigns by evaluating their awareness, appeal, and relevance to a brand's image and the celebrity's influence on consumers' buying behaviour. People tend to associate with a brand, basically because of the ambassador used to endorse it. As such, when a brand ambassador misbehaves, brand loyalists tend to develop a negative impression of the brand as well.
Brand Ambassadors that have Dented the Image of their Brands
When the news that South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius was being charged with premeditated murder for the shooting of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, the world was shocked. Pistorius, 26, earned the spotlight during the just ended summer Olympic games as he, a double amputee, was able to compete in the able-bodied games by running on carbon-fiber blades. The “Blade Runner” is the latest athlete who seems to have fallen from grace and, to be more specific, from the Nike brand. Pistorius was one of the world's most in-demand sports personalities for marketers. His sponsorship deal with Nike has received the most attention, following a series of other sportsmen backed by Nike who turned out to be brand liabilities. But his endorsements stretched well beyond the footwear giant, taking in British telecoms firm BT, sunglasses maker Oakley, and French designer Thierry Mugler, to name just a few. Now it's being reported that Oakley has cancelled its contract with Pistorius and Nike has "no further plans" to use him in advertisements.
Unfortunately, Pistorious is not the only brand ambassador that has drawn negative attention to the brands they endorse. On November 27, 2009, Tiger Woods was involved in a car accident outside his home. Following the accident, several potentially reputation-damaging pieces of information emerged, primarily involving extra-marital affairs. This had a negative effect on the Accenture, Gillette, Nike, PepsiCo (Gatorade) and Electronics Art (EA) brands which he endorsed and the various sponsors either stopped featuring him or dropped him outright.
Before O.J. Simpson became famous for allegedly murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend, Ronald Goldman, the former football star was the face of Hertz rental cars. When uncontested allegations of domestic abuse were reported in 1992, Hertz dumped Simpson. Two years later, he was arrested for the murder of Brown and Goldman.
Chewing gum maker Wrigley and the Milk Processor Education Programme, which is responsible for the "Got Milk?" campaign, ended their contracts with R&B performer Chris Brown after the singer pleaded guilty for assaulting his former girlfriend, Rihanna.“The Milk Mustache campaign is taking the allegations against Chris Brown very seriously,” the Washington, D.C.-based trade group said in a statement. “We are very proud and protective of the image of the Milk Mustache brand and the responsible message it sends to teens.”
Having seen these illustrations, there is no doubt that the brands these celebrities represent will suffer some level of setback as a result of their misconduct. An analysis of some experts' reactions to this will give us a hint into the effect these have on the brands.
What Effect on Brands?
It was Daniel J. Boorstin who said that a sign of a celebrity is that, his name is often worth more than his services. What this implies is that celebrities who serve as brand ambassadors represent the brands and as such, their lifestyles should be worth associating with the brand. This, in essence means that he has to do all he can to protect his image and in turn, safeguard the reputation of the brand in the eyes of the consumers.
Some stakeholders in the marketing communication field have analysed the consequence of such actions on the brands. According to Emeka Uchenna, Brand manager for Macleans Milkteeth, such acts from brand ambassadors definitely disenchants people from such brands. “Though the case is still in court and he has not been proven guilty yet, but whether he is found guilty or not, his character will affect the Nike brand negatively. Even though he has not been proven guilty yet, some of the brands are already withdrawing his endorsement. It will definitely have a pretty negative spike on the brands”. Akonte Akine, managing director Absolute PR believes that, brand ambassadors attract more customers to identify with brands, and any form of misbehaviour from them will be to the detriment of the brands. According to him, “If a celebrity's endorsement of the brand has given some level of elevation to the brand, any illicit act will also reduce the level of consumer patronage, because some consumers will not be happy with his misconduct and this dissatisfaction will be transferred to the brand itself. Though we do not have an empirical evidence of it, but people must have connected with the Nike brand just because they wanted to associate themselves with Pistorious and anything that he associates with. This also extends to other brands”.