Comment - Soft Drinks & Water - When Celebrities Go Bad
Although celebrities were out in force at the Oscars last weekend, we are, thankfully, seeing less and less of them in the world of soft drinks. Once viewed by marketers as a powerful, albeit expensive, tool to draw consumers to a brand, the overpaid and overhyped celeb can become a loose cannon for the label.
Bollywood brand ambassadors may well work for Coke and Pepsi in India, but celebrity endorsement is a double-edged sword, especially in the field of sport. There's no doubting that Coca-Cola Enterprises is currently very pleased with Wayne Rooney baring his chest in the Powerade advertising now on our screens; but can similar satisfaction be inferred for PepsiCo's Gatorade after the Tiger Woods fiasco? Last week it was confirmed that Woods' connections with Gatorade have been severed.
Woods has joined a long list of back-firing celebrity endorsements on the part of PepsiCo. The most famous, or infamous perhaps, is Michael Jackson. Following a hard-fought battle with The Coca-Cola Co, PepsiCo signed the popstar at the height of his 'Thriller' album fame. But all went awry - long before Jackson's personal downfall - when, during the filming of a commercial in 1984, a pyrotechnic stunt misfired and Jackson's hair was set alight. The company eventually settled out of court for $1.5m.
Then there was the Madonna moment. Pepsi had to abandon her as a member of its euphemistically-called 'family' when her 'Like a Prayer' video and its perceived satanic content angered religious groups who threatened to boycott Pepsi. The company was forced to cancel the advertising campaign and sponsorship of Madonna's 1990 Blond Ambition Tour, whilst she reportedly kept the contracted $5m.
Britney Spears offered little respite. Prior to her 2007 'meltdown', Pepsi appointed her as the voice of a new generation of pop idols. She lasted a year, departing after being repeatedly photographed drinking Coke.
Some family members did not disappoint. When I joined the cast of thousands to witness Pepsi Cola's packaging switch from red to blue in 1996 - dubbed Project Blue - in a hangar at Gatwick Airport, Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford and Andre Agassi (mercifully - for Pepsi - a pre-drug-confession version) spoke eloquently of the importance of Pepsi in their lives before unveiling a Concorde aircraft liveried in the new Pepsi blue, part of the global roll out.
David Beckham also proved reliable. His ten-year relationship with PepsiCo ended in December 2008, when he decided not to renew his contract. During the time he starred in a series of advertisements in which he appeared as everything macho from a gladiator to a cowboy. Then a spokesperson from PepsiCo said: “Our partnership has been one of the most enduring in global brand history and David will always be part of our Pepsi family.” At the time the observation was made that his decision to step down followed a ridiculous complaint from the Consumer Association: Beckham was promoting unhealthy drinks to children!
It is perfectly understandable why sports and isotonic brands should look to a sporting personality to draw consumers to their drinks. Olympic champion Daley Thompson and Lucozade set the bar when, in 1985, Lucozade morphed from a post-illness recovery drink to an energy drink with advertisements fronted by Thompson accompanied by Iron Maiden's Phantom of the Opera soundtrack. The campaign is legendary. The slogan 'Lucozade aids recovery' was replaced by 'Lucozade replaces lost energy' The effect? Between 1984 and 1989 the value of UK sales of the drink tripled and today the brand is the No 1 energy drink in the UK.
The same is true of bottled water. Hydration is a strong message when it comes to athletic endeavour and is the reason why bottled water brands sponsor the likes of the London Marathon and Wimbledon. At last year's Wimbledon tennis tournament Andy Murray created added publicity and a frisson of excitement when he appeared on court carrying a bottle of his personal sponsor's water (Highland Spring) which contained an energy mix. Since Evian had signed a five-year multi-million dollar deal to be the Official Bottled Water of the tournament, they were more than a little miffed. The tournament referee was called and Murray instructed to take the label off.
Murray might have been good news for Highland Spring last year, but another of his sponsors, Barclays, was dismayed with his performance at this year's Dubai Open held in February. After a surprising second round defeat to Janko Tipsarevic, the Scot said that his style of play would have been different if it had been a grand slam event, the inference being he wasn't taking the tournament seriously.
Barclays consultant John Beddington said: “It's as disappointing for us as it is for Dubai Duty Free who work so hard and operate the event.” He added, “Possibly a more experienced player would think this but wouldn't say it for fear it would hurt the event.”
And there's the nub of the matter. Celebrities are, by and large, unthinking prima-donnas, Their lofty status makes them feel invincible, as Tiger Woods conceded in his feeble 'mea culpa' monologue. Brands must always beware – they are walking on eggshells when dealing with the unreliable egos and scandalous behaviour of today's celebrities. Coca-Cola ought to keep its fingers crossed that England's current golden footballing couple, Wayne and Colleen Rooney, do not become another Ashley and Cheryl Cole headline story for the tabloid press.
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