The perils of aligning a company's values with a particular celebrity were painfully underscored by the recent, sudden meltdown of Tiger Woods' reputation.
Turns out that the greatest golfer of his generation—and perhaps any—was something less than a paragon of integrity in his personal life, which was an integral part of the complete package to which advertisers had hitched their brands. Accenture, the global consulting firm that for six years burnished its brand on Tiger's broad shoulders and carefully sculpted image of excellence and perfection, jettisoned its marketing partner at the first sign of trouble, declaring that he “was no longer the right representative for its advertising.” So much for the “Go on. Be a Tiger.” tagline emblazoned on many of its ads.
AT&T asked to have its logo scratched from Tiger's golf bag. And a roster of consumer advertisers that have profited from their relationships with Tiger are trying to figure out what they'll do about their sponsorship agreements with him. We have no advice for them, but for our core audience of b-to-b marketers might we suggest thinking twice about relying on celebrities to deliver their marketing messages?
First of all, they're human and by nature flawed. But their celebrity exposes them to extra measures of temptation, a list that begins with adultery, gambling, alcohol abuse, reckless driving, drugs (recreational and performance-enhancing), scrapes with the paparazzi and with the tax man—hardly the attributes with which an advertiser wants to be associated.
The veneration of a celebrity in an ad risks overwhelming the marketer's essential message about the quality of its product or service. The process is similar to creating an ad so clever and so entertaining that the only thing people can't remember about the execution is the name of the advertiser. Like a vampire with blood from the body, celebrity drains energy away from the central message.
So allow us to offer some simple suggestions on celebrity-free, b-to-b branding and advertising.
Use a distinctive color. They never change their stripes. Think of all the successful color-coded brands over the years that immediately struck a note of familiarity, helping to reduce the anxiety of a big purchase: IBM blue, Caterpillar yellow, Kodak's striking gold and red, and Owens Corning pink, as in the Pink Panther.
Raise the dead. Their reputations have been fully vetted, and they're now beyond mortal temptation. Amelia Earhart can speak to an advertiser's sense of adventure and derring-do. Ben Franklin is all about innovation, and Abraham Lincoln can transfer a sense of integrity to an advertiser's brand or campaign.
Build upon a natural landmark or monument. They can lend a sense of dignity and permanence to a branding campaign. The Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls or the Great Pyramids can strike exactly the right metaphor.
A brand, of course, is more than a color, or a logo or a personality—dead or alive. And it certainly goes well beyond advertising. A brand is the sum of a company's qualities, characteristics and reputation that allows it to create an image in the marketplace and deliver upon a promise. But the symbols it chooses are important.
Which brings us to Chasers Criteria No. 10: The successful ad reflects the company's character. Among the points we want to make here is that whatever a company attempts to say about itself, it needs to be consistent over time and across the spectrum of corporate structure and product lines.
When a personality around which a company's image is built ends up on the rocks, so, too, can the company's brand. And that means it's time for a new campaign, which can undercut the messages, imagery and equity the company had been assiduously cultivating. Accenture may want a mulligan, but that's not allowed in the unforgiving game of b-to-b marketing. M