Issue: Why does bad behavior hurt some brands more than others?
Commentary by: David Vinjamuri
Accenture announced over the weekend that it would sever its relationship with Tiger Woods, who has fronted a major advertising campaign for the consultancy over the past six years.Â Nike, on the other hand has reaffirmed support for Woods after his accident and revelations of marital indiscretions.
This advertising blog has never been a great fan of celebrity endorsement.Â As the Tiger Woods example illustrates, even the most stable of celebrities may expose a brand to negative attention.Â However, celebrities play different roles for different kinds of brands.Â Â As odd as it may sound, Accenture was right to drop Woods while Nike was equally wise in staying with him.
To understand the distinction between the type of endorsement value Tiger Woods has for these two different brands, we must consider the type of associative brand equity Woods transfers to each brand with his endorsement.
Tiger Woods is a world class athlete.Â Indeed, winning the U.S. Open in 2008 with a serious knee injury may have been one of the most outstanding athletic achievements of the past decade.Â For Nike, Tiger Woods endorsement is an endorsement of direct expertise.Â Nike’s brand equity is based on understanding the needs of serious athletes.Â The Nike brand values are about commitment and intensity.Â In spite of taking a hiatus from golf, Nike has every reason to believe that Tiger will continue to be a serious athlete and a top competitor.Â Nike has often successfully maintained association with athletes who have had some degree of personal notoriety because the brand equity it takes from these athletes is related to their dedication, not the conduct of their personal lives.
The Accenture relationship with Tiger Woods is one of the few sponsorship relationships with Woods outside of Nike that we believe has been effective for both parties, as we’ve argued previously. In this campaign, however, Tiger lends the Accenture brand equity through indirect expertise – in this case his focus and judgment.Â Thus, when Woods’ judgment becomes suspect it eliminates his value as a brand spokesperson for the Accenture brand.Â The past association may indeed hurt the brand in this case.
What’s the brand lesson here?Â If you are looking for a spokesperson, try to pick a celebrity who has direct expertise in the problem your brand solves.Â Â The celebrity should be a core user of the brand and someone who is highly credible with other users.Â This doesn’t mean that they have to be aspirational.Â In 2005, Alka-Seltzer very effectively used the late Peter Boyle (who played the father in the TV sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond”) as a direct expert in indigestion.Â Most sufferers would have no interest in becoming the character Boyle was known for.Â But an older, overweight cranky man who might have eaten an entire turkey was a credible expert for indigestion relief.
Using celebrities to promote brands is a risky business.Â Most endorsements are meaningless and hollow.Â But even those which are effective contain risks.Â By focusing on direct expertise, brands can at least avoid some of the direct pitfalls of bad celebrity behavior.