“Enter At Your Own Peril” : Sponsor Association With Controversial Brand Ambassadors
23rd September, 2013
It seems, historically, that sport and scandal have gone hand-in-hand. Over the past five years there have been multiple athletes in the upper echelons of their respected fields that have been subject to a public fall from grace. For the sponsor, the usual protocol will be to run for the hills, and withdraw any association with the respected star. However, there are some exceptions, and brands do, in some cases, stick by or re-invest in their asset – but under what circumstance and why?
Level Of Association
If the player is either an integral part of the sponsors make up, or headline star, then it makes the job of getting rid of them, and keeping to your marketing strategy a lot harder. Woods, of course, has been embezzled with the swoosh his entire career, this can also be said of Wayne Rooney. However Ryan Giggs has not been so fortunate, despite being held up as headline moral ambassador for his maturity, the star ended up being shunned by a number of his sponsors for a comparable offense to that of Rooney or Woods.
The commercial revenue generated by any ambassador is integral to their credentials, and can play a significant role in the decision making process. In Woods and Rooney’s case, both EA games and Nike had complete product ranges centered on them, and commercially had too much to lose.
Sponsor’s market place
Accenture was Woods’s big loss in the aftermath of the scandal around his affair. The firm could not justify sporting a star whilst marketing themselves as a trusted Business Consultancy. Brands have ambassadors for a multitude of reasons, but they must be able to link their common values and business goals. In contrast, Alex Rodriguez, was still used by Guitar Hero in their adverts even after he admitted to taking banned substances. The business case for this was that Guitar Hero’s product was not affiliated with his sporting attributes, but his public personality.
The line with which most brands have consistently taken when suspending contracts, has been when the ambassador’s actions directly affect the relationship they have with the respected brand’s promotional attributes. In the case of Drugs there has been a 100% termination rate in sport. However, in the case of Kate Moss and the fashion industry, the offence was taken very differently. Although she did lose substantial contracts, Moss managed to retain seven, and go on to re-build her career, something which has never been seen on such a scale in sport.
There is no doubt that trust in ambassadors has publically waned, as such, there has been a shift in how brands market their ambassadors. Recent campaigns by brands such as Nike illustrate that the focus is now upon empowering the consumer, rather than showboating the skills of an untouchable star. Even in fashion, couture designers are collaborating with high street fashion chains to bring their products to a consumer level. This shift undoubtedly showcases ambassadors but does much to bring the star or garment to the consumers level, retaining brand loyalty, which is essential in a very fickle market place.
It’s the end product that matters
As the quote above states, ambassadors uphold the values of the product they promote, and being the lucrative tool which they are, brands will do anything to protect them. However no one is bigger than the brand and on a case-by-case basis, the outcome of each offense is dictated by the relationship between the star and the value of the product they endorse.