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Aligning brand values to a sports star’s profile

If there is any mismatch, it could weigh heavily on the brand’s identity

Gulf News

The Indian Premier League (IPL) bonanza had the Who’s Who of the cricketing world descend upon the UAE. While the on-field action and late night parties will go on until June (with the games shifting to India), it will be followed by the Fifa World Cup in Brazil, as well as the final rounds of the UEFA Champions League and English Premier League.

The French Open is also there — so sports lovers have a lot to look forward to over the next few months. Given the popularity that sports enjoy, it is no surprise that marketing companies bank upon endorsements by sportspersons as a means of building brand equity. But does this strategy always work?

There are definitely advantages in having star sportspersons endorsing one’s product, namely:

* Helps tap newer markets: Using celebrities can help to create an instant connect with large audiences. This is especially useful for new brand launches or entry into new markets. A Ronaldo or Messi endorsing shampoo brands creates a connect even in emerging markets, due to the huge fan following that they enjoy.

* Personifies the brand: When associated with a celebrity, the brand gets associated with the values and personality that the celebrity is known for. When Sachin Tendulkar said: “Boost is the secret of my energy”, it made it the ultimate energy drink in India. Similarly, Roger Federer endorsing Rolex helped to enhance the brand’s image in terms of quality, precision, elegance and superior performance.

* Builds trust and credibility: When celebrities endorse a product; their followers feel reassured about the quality of the product. Brands ranging from apparel to watches and F&B (food and beverages) to automotive have all gained from such credibility.

At the same time, there are also potential downsides — apart from the obvious high cost involved in getting a famous celebrity to endorse one’s brand, there can also be a negative impact on the brand in case the sportsperson gets involved in any unsavory incident (Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, etc). Or, at times, the celebrity could end up overshadowing the brand, which entirely defeats the purpose of the endorsement — at the height of his popularity, David Beckham was endorsing multiple apparel brands. But in most cases what remained in the mind was his sculpted body, rather than the brand that he was endorsing.

A few watch-outs for marketers to keep in mind:

* It is critical to match the values that the celebrity stands for with the values that the brand is trying to deliver on; a top-notch tennis or golf player endorsing a premium watch or a sports car seems like a good fit, but the same player endorsing a mass brand might not be apt.

* In a multi-ethnic environment like the GCC, it is important to choose a celebrity who would resonate with the target audience that one is trying to reach. For example, if one is targeting mainly an Arab audience, it would be unwise to use a cricket star.

* Most multinational companies tend to choose global icons, as their popularity is easily transferable across markets, thus making the choice more cost-effective. However, there is also a case to be made for local/ regional stars being chosen as brand ambassadors, as they also add a stronger layer of cultural connect with the target audience. Pepsi and Gillette, for example, have used regional football stars like Mohamed Abu Trika and Yasser Al Qahtani as brand ambassadors, which helped to strike a chord with their Arab fans.

* They need to consider the amount of exposure that a particular celebrity is getting in the media. Celebrities who are endorsing too many brands are likely to create more visibility for themselves than for the brands that they endorse.

* Sports celebrities are also human and can be prone to sudden loss of form or face issues on other fronts, which could dent credibility of the brands that they endorse. Hence, it is important for companies using sports celebrities to have a backup plan in case anything goes awry, either in terms of having multiple endorsers or use other more conventional means of advertising.

Celebrity endorsement has now become a multibillion dollar business across the world, and as long as the celebrities can keep cash counters ringing, they are going to be sought after. While there are definite upsides, careful selection of the celebrity to endorse one’s brand is of paramount importance.

— The writer is CEO of AMRB, a Dubai based research consultancy.