Monday, 22 October 2012

Celebrity endorsement – from Josiah Wedgewood to Lance Armstrong

Here’s some history for your dear readers. Did you know that one of the first people to pioneer celebrity endorsement was Josiah Wedgewood way back in the 1760’s? He actively promoted the fact that his pottery was used by Royalty to add to the perceived value of the products he sold. Once Queen Charlotte started using his wares he immediately called himself “Potter to Her Majesty” and increased his prices for the nobility. He then lowered his prices for the middle class but the Royal stamp of approval on certain ranges meant he could charge a premium.

From that simple but brilliant piece of marketing insight we can fast forward over 250 years to a world where celebrity endorsement is now the norm. Today Hollywood film stars promote luxury goods for millions and often low cost goods in the Far East so long as they are paid enough and also given a guarantee that the ads will not appear in the West to tarnish their reputation. Today a new breed of television “celebrities” such as those from The Only Way Is Essex are paid “low” wages and told they can expect to gain large on photo deals and product endorsements.  I suspect Josiah would probably be caught between pride and shame at how far his initial concept has gone.

However history also teaches us that although we tend to put celebrities on a pedestal they can often fall off and, if closely associated with a product or service, can damage that as well. High profile celebrities can make lots of money from brands wanting to be associated with them. David Beckham has made far more money from his product endorsements than he has ever made from actually kicking a ball. However for every Beckham there is also an OJ Simpson or a Tiger Woods. High profile celebrities with big product endorsements whose sponsors disassociated themselves as quickly as possible when things turned in their private lives.

In the last week we have seen sponsors finally start to desert Lance Armstrong. Even Nike, whom he has worked with since 1996, cancelled agreements and even using the strongly worded press release stating: “…has misled Nike for over a decade”. This shows the scale of the issue with Armstrong as they stood by Tiger Woods when his personal life exploded in 2009 when other brands left him. Within hours of the Nike announcement the cycle company Trek and brewers Anheuser-Busch also cancelled with more following. To put a sense of value to this Nike alone was worth and estimated £4.6m a year to Armstrong.

Unfortunately there are no hard and fast lessons here. Our fascination with celebrities means that their endorsement will continue to sell products and services. So while that is the case, brand and service owners will continue to pay them in the hope it will help them grow their bottom line.  However even those who once seemed beyond reproach can have hidden issues that can bite those who closely associate with them. Armstrong is not the first example and he will not be the last.

Tim Youngman is head of digital marketing for Archant follow him on twitter @timyoungman

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Animee and a beer for women - a lesson in product targeting and gender neutrality

In a week when Adnams was voted into the list of the UK’s coolest brands I thought it only right that I dedicate this week’s column to the subject of beer. This is not a shameful attempt to solicit free samples from those fine local producers Woodfordes, Greene King and Adnams but a genuine interest in the closure of a beer brand.

Before any female readers turn the page, this column is also all about you! A question to start with then. How many of my female readers have heard of the beer brand Animee? Any of you with your hands up I will ask the question did you actually try it? Animee was actually a brand of beer created by Molson Coors designed specifically for women. It was launched last July and backed by a £2 million ad campaign specifically targeting women. Fourteen months later the brand was pulled.

The reasons behind the launch were clear. According to recent research 77% of women say that they ‘never’ or ‘very seldom’ drink beer with only 13% of beer serves in the UK attributed to women. You can compare that to 33% in the Republic of Ireland and 44% in Spain. So in a market that has suffered from falling sales at public houses and the growth of home drinking fuelled by supermarket price promotion sales, any growth opportunity has to be explored.

Of course by saying that this beer is for women you immediately make the statement that it’s not for men who make up the vast proportion of beer consumption in the UK. Likewise, by creating a brand that is particular to the smaller purchasing segment, it has to work very hard to make inroads in that segment and will not attract sales from the bigger consuming segment i.e. men. Suddenly the £2 million marketing budget does not seem that big.

Interestingly it seems that beers that take a non-gender approach to branding and marketing have managed to attract a following. Peroni, for example, reports that it has a strong female following and attributes it to its brand positioning of Italian cool versus lads down the pub. Molson Coors themselves as part of the announcement of closure noted that its own brands Coors Light and Carling Zest attracted a higher proportion of women drinkers without even trying because they were gender neutral in their advertising. In the case of both Peroni and Zest the advertising included both men and women and was more aspirational and inclusive than for example the Carlsburg “Probably….” campaigns which perfectly targets its chosen market demographic.

So will this current failure mean that brewers will stop scratching their heads coming up with beers targeted at women, probably not. I suspect though that the lessons being learnt that creating a beer that is brewed and marketed as being great for both sexes might be.

Tim Youngman is head of digital marketing for Archant follow him on Twitter @timyoungman