Don’t sail your product out to sea

JUNE 2010

JESSICA  Watson has sailed around the world to become a role model for many young women, but it doesn’t mean she can sell your product, warns a Queensland University of Technology (QUT) celebrity endorsement expert.

Professor Brett Martin says advertisers need to be very careful when relying on star power to promote their products, because a badly aligned endorsement can be both ineffective and expensive.

“What wouldn’t succeed for Jessica? Firstly, a product that doesn’t match, something that’s unrelated and the danger of that is that if someone doesn’t have expertise in that area there’s a perception they’re doing it purely for the money and people become sceptical,” he says.

“But it’s great if they get it right, because it matches a brand that might have been abstract in terms of what the product means, kind of sterile, to having a mascot who personifies what the brand means.

“She would be associated obviously with anything nautical like sailing or water sports, but on the other hand it could be something that associates with her being a role model for young women, representing independence and the ability to achieve on one’s own.”

In the case of swim star Stephanie Rice, she was scooped up as the ambassador for luxury car brand Jaguar. The Olympic gold medallist was apparently chosen by Jaguar because ‘they both continue to push the boundaries with outstanding performance, sporting style and sophistication’.

However Martin points to a case with the New Zealand All Blacks that shows the differences in effective advertising.

“One example where something doesn’t fit is when sporting people support private technology products, like when the All Blacks were supporting a television set. But then they were in an ad with Weet Bix and that’s a good fit because it says ‘if you eat this you’ll grow up to be healthy and fit’.”

In the 1980s there was an attitude that ‘if they’re in the spotlight, let’s hire them’, but since then celebrity marketing experts have focused on brand alignment and associated meanings.

“For instance there’s more to Nike than ‘just do it’, but rather associations, and they choose performers who succeed aggressively, which fits their dynamic brand.”

Martin thinks that advertisers often pay too much attention on celebrities for what they get in return.

“Sometimes they pay highly for celebrities and that’s the manager’s decision, but often the neglected part is typical person advertising where someone is showing you how to use a product, which in many cases has been shown to be more successful. But that’s less likely to achieve much media attention,” he says.

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