Opinion: Cristiano Ronaldo's Coca-Cola swap is a cautionary tale for marketers
When Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo swept aside two bottles of Coca-Cola and instead raised a bottle of water in a press conference for the European championships last month, Coke lost $4 billion in market value overnight. That’s a cautionary tale for all marketers as influencer marketing gains ground as a marketing tactic.
According to an Advertiser Perceptions report, 25% of advertisers using influencers spent more (on average +22%) on the practice in the second half of 2020, and all signs point to increasing reliance on celebrities, from athletes to entertainers to social media influencers. As a result, fewer brands will have anything valuable to offer when they intercept consumers on a real-time basis.
At best, celebrities give a brand borrowed interest. They can spike interest, but it’s their voice. When the campaign or contract ends, they take it back. By contrast, when brands create their own characters and character, those personalities sustain. Flo for Progressive, Clara Peller for Where's the Beef, and the Geico gecko are authentic; they’re built to voice the brand position and value proposition.
What builds brands to last is a true value position backed by a real product difference. Colonel Sanders shared the best fried chicken in the south and had a basis for why his product was different. You can’t create that if you keep zigzagging with the latest celebrity campaign.
How did we get here? For 10 years, marketing has put the right place and time over the right message. I’ve heard it at every conference: a preoccupation with how we reach people without regard to what we have to say when we do.
We can fix this by doing three simple things.
Believe in the brand
I’m constantly amazed when marketers admit they feel there’s nothing special about their brands. When you feel that way, borrowed interest seems like the only viable magnet. What's special here? Why do I care? If you can’t conjure it, start by asking the people who get something from the brand. Their experience will reveal its true power and show the way to an authentic voice.
Own the brand again
Brands need owners, but who owns the brand? Is it the VP in marketing? Is it the branded content person? The CMO? The CEO? Brand by committee falls prey to borrowed interest. Startups have clearer messages because their founders value their business and brand, and they understand they can’t become special unless they’re different. Bigger brands need to put one owner in charge.
Concentrate on real-time messaging, not real-time media
Take a minute to distinguish the benefit—beyond product, price, service—that is authentic to the way you do business. Forego the elongated process and put a small team on the message. Then let them use your continuous data stream to keep it fresh.
Today’s real brand crisis is lack of authentic voice. Now that privacy laws make the right place and time much harder to automate, marketers must refocus on the right message. I believe the only chance of getting consumers to allow tracking is to serve up ads that benefit them. If the brand message has something to offer beyond pictures of products they’ve already bought or disconnected celebrity entertainment, they’re much more likely to opt in.
Recently, corporate boards and leaders have begun to grapple with the issue of brand sustainability. They’ll get there if they accept and operate from a simple, everlasting advertising truth: Without the right message, intercepting consumers at the right place and time is meaningless.