Brand: American Express
Link: Click Here
Target: Affluent credit card users
A series of two ads for American Express timed for the US Open featuring tennis champ Andy Roddick – one aired before the event started and the second shown after Roddick’s devastating first round loss in the U.S. Open. In the first ad we see Roddick going to bed the night before the competition only to have his alter-ego – his ‘mojo’ – party all night without him. Roddick looks tired and out of sorts as he warms up the next day, throwing his racquet to the ground in frustration as he asks another player, “Marty – you ever feel like you’re just … missing something?” The spot ends up with the question “Will Andy get his mojo back.” The second spot is a press conference featuring Roddick’s mojo where he insists that he will be back at practice with Andy saying Andy said that “Redemption Does Not Hit the Snooze Button.” The second spot ends with a shot of the green Amex card and the tagline “A World of Service”
There is a very obvious, age-old problem with celebrity endorsements – they rely on the credibility of the celebrity and that credibility can change quickly if that celebrity is arrested or misbehaves. When athletes are hired to promote events they are competing in that challenge is magnified. A company trying to tie itself with a winner can just as often rope itself to a loser and be dragged down by him.
This campaign for American Express is fascinating precisely because it openly and forthrightly acknowledges and embraces that danger. Even more interesting is the fact that the worst case scenario did happen in this case – the celebrity champion did not just lose – he lost in the first round on the first day of a two-week tournament. Roddick was humiliated not just because he lost but because he was a favorite and because he lost to a virtually unknown player from Luxembourg named Gilles Muller.
Thus when we see Andy’s mojo out partying without him in the first spot and Roddick looking terrible the next day, American Express has openly raised the possibility of a loss for Roddick. That is very brave and certainly makes this spot memorable – at least for Roddick if not for American Express.
The second spot then seems to address the loss head-on. Andy will be back, it says and seems proudly to flaunt the loss rather than retreating from it. Again, AMEX wins points for forthrightness and bravery here.
The real question we need to ask as brand marketers, however, is what does this campaign do for American Express? The first spot is puzzling, looking at moments like a promotion for identity theft as Andy Roddick’s geeky looking mojo (who does not resemble Roddick at all) clowns around town with his AMEX card. Then the startling shot of Roddick playing badly makes it difficult to deduce what the brand positioning for American Express ought to be. Is Amex so tempting that we’ll be seduced into overspending and undersleeping, ignoring our basic responsibilities? That is too close to the reality of charge cards to be helpful to American Express.
The real world defeat of Roddick and the surprising decision by Amex to run the second spot only ads to the confusion created by the first ad. Now we see that Roddick has lost and we know (before we even see the spot) that is has been an awful affair. The spot reinforces this and ties the loss back to the American Express brand in case we hadn’t already done that ourselves. Although it ends with a defiant tone – Andy will be back – it again doesn’t seem to do anything to strengthen the American Express brand name. Just the opposite, in fact. Amex is reinforcing the connection to a losing cause (Roddick will be back but the 2005 US Open is over for him and for Amex).
This campaign sounds like a high-concept way to make celebrity athletic endorsements that are event related work – make a joke of the possibility of losing and get as much buzz as is possible regardless of the outcome. Unfortunately losing is never a good thing for professional athletes and regardless of what shine you put on it, having a key spokesperson fail so badly hurts the brand image of an elite brand like American Express. AMEX has not rewritten the rules for advertising with this campaign – they’ve just proven that fundamentals do matter
Branding Bottom Line:
Amex tries to buy disaster coverage for its US Open champion and ends up with a mess.