This week I have chosen to focus on brand.
Who you choose to represent your brand matters.
But who is the right person to represent your brand?
As marketers, we must be mindful of the impact of celebrity branding. Donald Trump’s recent presidential success has polarised the American people and threatens the Trump brand. As Ivanka Trump contemplates the consequence of her father’s high profile campaign and the criticisms levelled at him by the Clinton Camp, we must reassess the impact of celebrity endorsement.
In light of this recent event, I have chosen to focus this week’s blog on Walkers and the face of their brand, Gary Lineker, to highlight the limitations of associating a celebrity with your brand.
When we think of the Walkers brand, Gary Lineker comes to mind; a former footballer and sports presenter who does not have a direct link with the Walkers brand, but Walkers has a significant presence in Leicester and Lineker was born in Leicester. The first ad that Lineker starred in was appropriately called ‘Welcome Home’ as he had recently returned from playing football abroad.
Gary Lineker has been in the news recently as he has spoken out about Walkers relationship with The Sun newspaper because of their stance over the Calais refugees. As a result, there are rumours that The Sun have asked for him to be sacked from Match of the Day. His political stance is therefore putting his career at risk.
The question is whether this will threaten the strong, clean image that he has spent so many years building up and maintaining as the face of Walkers.
Lineker’s 21-year long association with the brand could also be challenged as Walkers look to change the focus of their brand. Walkers have recently taken on other sporting stars to launch the brand into the world of social media. This is evidence that Walkers want to appeal to a wider audience, starting with the Leicester City player Jamie Vardy who featured last December in the promotion of the limited edition crisps ‘Vardy Salted’. Vardy had recently fired Leicester City to the top of the Premier League table after scoring in 11 consecutive matches.
Lionel Messi, one of the top football players, appeared in an advert with Gary Lineker in February, which unsurprisingly piqued the interest of football fans online, as the activity on Twitter indicates (Campaign Live, 2016). This could also be a result of Walkers recent focus on sport in their online promotional campaigns as a result of their owner, PepsiCo, becoming a sponsor of the UEFA Champions League.
Lionel Messi is surrounded by recent scandal over tax evasion. The question here is whether Walkers are taking a huge risk by choosing someone more relevant like Messi to represent their brand despite his image. His overwhelming presence in the sport certainly does make him a favourable candidate for the role, and I wonder whether this will propel him forward into becoming a strong representative for the brand, following Gary Lineker who also had a successful sporting career.
The case of using Messi as an endorser for Walkers highlights a limitation when choosing a celebrity to represent your brand, as there is the risk that their image splits into two. We can look back to when the sports brand Nike chose to start making golf equipment with the endorsement of Tiger Woods when he turned into a professional golfer in 1996. He had the image of a great golfer, and his unique name, ethnicity and articulation serve him well as somebody to support a brand. He also held the image of a happily married man until the accusation of his infidelity shattered this image. This led to many of his sponsors dropping him from their brand, which has had implications for his image but he never cheated at golf so sport sponsors remained loyal, as the focus of why they chose him was on his position as a top golfer. Instead of ending their sponsorship with him, Nike made an advert in which Tiger was listening to advice from his father Earl talking from his grave, and the caption they attribute to him in their campaigns ‘Winning takes care of everything’ seems apt in relation to the resilience of his image as a top sportsman.
From these examples, we can see that there is hope yet for someone like Gary Lineker, whose well-established image as the face of Walkers could aid him survive the storm of his political engagement with The Sun.
Who you choose to represent your brand definitely matters. I think that the right person to represent your brand should be someone relevant, as I personally do not see the change in the way that Walkers advertise their brand as a bad thing. We must acknowledge the limitations of celebrity branding, as you cannot guarantee, even after 21 years, that your choice of celebrity will never be considered a risk; the image they choose to portray as a celebrity could ultimately come into conflict with the message of your brand.