Are celebrity brand ambassadors too risky for your business?

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Older consumers are not as likely to be influenced by celebrity endorsements.
Clow and Baack, (2007)

Celebrity endorsers, popularly known as brand ambassadors, have become, well…popular, in so many, many places. And why not? Nuff hype, big ups, media attention and usually a very big party to top it all off. But is it really a gamble by marketers who have blindsided the rest of the company as some people claim?

A Current Jamaican Example

Let’s look at a current example here in my native Jamaica. Last week ATL Automotive, dealers for VW, Audi and Honda motor cars announced that singer and media personality Denyque, was its new brand ambassador.

“We’re very happy to have Denyque on board as our Volkswagen ambassador. She exhibits so much synergy with the VW brand: effervescence, spunk and major cool factor. We thought it was match made in heaven,” said ATL Automotive’s group general manager.

This marketer has had 6 Hondas, thinks the VW brand is perhaps the best motor car value anywhere, and as a youngster was fascinated by DKW (derived from Dampf-Kraft-Wagen) and NSU, two of the forbears of the present Audi brand. Fond, but fading memories of the NSU Spider from the 1960s linger; but never mind for the Audi TT would fit nicely into my garage!

Why engage brand ambassadors?

But back to our brand ambassador story. Why do marketers engage them? Let’s hear what Clow and Baack, (2007) have to say. “A celebrity endorser is used because his or her stamp of approval on a product can enhance the product’s brand equity. Celebrities also help create emotional bonds with the products. This bond transfer often is more profound for younger consumers. Older consumers are not as likely to be influenced by celebrity endorsements.” So who is VW/Audi targeting? And how many young Jamaicans have money to spend on these premium/luxury brands in this time of extreme austerity? But why ask? For I’m sure they’ve got that all sorted out.

Potential Dangers

Shrewd marketers, however, never forget that there are several potential dangers in using celebrity endorsers. Among them are inappropriate conduct. Who can forget Tiger Woods and how many global brands dropped him in an instant, almost? And here in Jamaica some of our best-known advertisers have dumped their brand ambassadors drawn from the popular culture very quickly for the same reason. Further, the matter of credibility remains an issue, for we all know that brand ambassadors are paid to promote the brand.

But perhaps the biggest potential danger may be self-inflicted; for too often marketers engage brand ambassadors without carefully developing financial and marketing objectives, measures of success and the requisite internal marketing. Bottom line? Brand awareness is never the objective of a campaign/promotion when your brand is already well-known. Neither is the excuse that you can’t measure the effect of marketing campaigns/activities acceptable. Worse, the buying cycle for such a major purchase as a motor car may be very long, with little immediate financial impact. Sales may be dismayed by the resulting numbers, and Finance may well ask, “Did we waste our money on that brand ambassador?”

Good luck ATL Automotive! This marketer is always wary about the real value created by brand ambassadors, but that little Audi… now where is the car fairy when I need you?

Herman D. Alvaranga is president of the Caribbean School of Sales Management. Shrewd managers call him instead of looking outside the region for world-class sales and marketing consulting and sales force transformation.

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