the frequency a kenny chung blog

We all associate celebrities and public figures with brands and products. There’s Jared from Subway, Justin Long and Apple, Paul Reiser and AT&T One Rate Plus. OK, that last one was a joke, but true (though I’m sure this newest generation is neither familiar with the actor or service… or touch-tone phones).

Sometimes, a person transcends a brand or becomes their own- Michael Jordan with Air Jordan, Derek Jeter’s 24 Hour Fitness, and countless fashion designers. But there are also in-between scenarios when people become so synonymous with a brand that they become the face of a company- for better or for worse.

Sometimes, it makes perfect sense- like Dave Thomas and Wendy’s (he was the founder). Other times, it’s a stroke of luck, like Andy Azula (you may never have known his name, but you’ve definitely seen his face. He’s the UPS whiteboard guy, and actually the creative director who had a hand in thinking up the commercial concept).

So is it prudent to put all of your eggs in one basket in terms of branding/presenting the face of your company?

Dave Thomas of Wendy's

Let’s take the Dave Thomas Wendy’s example. He had been a great spokesman for 13 years and was perfect for the brand (since the company was in essence his). But when he died in 2002, due to health complications, the company took a huge hit in the advertising space. Wendy’s no longer had a face and was forced to reinvent itself. They tried to leverage Wendy herself (a caricature of Dave’s daughter), but that was very forgettable. In fact, it’s been 8 years, and I doubt if any significant number of people could name a specific Wendy’s ad campaign from the last two (sorry Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners). We certainly haven’t had another “Where’s the beef?” moment.

On the other hand, let’s take a look at Tiger Woods. He was, at one point, an almost ideal spokesperson for sports-related products. We had the Nike and the Gatorade sponsorships. But then all of his many sexual infidelities reared their ugly heads, and the companies that endorsed him had to make an important choice. Nike famously backed Woods and acknowledged his problems. Gatorade, however, dropped him quickly. The sports drink company could afford to. The Gatorade brand was already well-positioned and built up. The company also had a slew of other available sports stars at their disposal to take Tiger’s place. Now imagine if instead of Gatorade, a smaller up-and-coming company paid for the face of Tiger as its exclusive spokesperson. It probably wouldn’t have the luxury of a star-studded celebrity supporting lineup. But their brand would also suffer a huge blow from which a smaller company might not recover.

So back to the question at hand: should you trust your brand identity to a single person? Well, it depends. Sometimes you take what you can get. Other times, you keep backup options, because scandal and death could always be around the corner. Either way, you should always have a backup plan. No excuses.

One more extreme example- anyone remember those ShamWow commercials with their overly annoying spokesperson Vince? Well, he was charged with beating up a prostitute. Not exactly great PR…

Here’s the ad in question:

All creepiness aside with using the late Earl Woods voice, I think it’s a great ad. and here’s why:

Tiger’s PR can’t really get that much worse. He was recently linked to his neighbor’s daughter, which was just another drop in the bucket. Masters Chairman Billy Payne expressed his disdain for Woods’ adulterous behavior, basically calling him a disappointment of a role model. That statement really did have the air of a father chiding his son. It also raised the following question: if golf doesn’t support Tiger, then who will?

Nike will.

Tiger Woods is a big money maker for Nike. As a slew of other sponsors dropped him as a spokesperson, the value of Tiger as a brand was plummeting. Nike is one of the remaining sponsors who decided not to sever all ties with Woods (which makes sense, since the company’s whole golf line centers around him).

So at this point, Nike had two options: they could either slink back into their chair and wait for the whole thing to blow over, or they could meet the PR nightmare head on. Obviously, they opted for the latter.

Think about the content of the actual ad for a minute. A father disappointed in his son. The fact that Nike green-lighted the commercial possibly means the company’s disappointed in Tiger as well. The message resonates with people because it reflects exactly what Billy Payne stated: a LOT of people are disappointed in Tiger. In one fell swoop, Nike is not only acknowledging that the company doesn’t condone Tiger’s actions, but also that he deserves a second chance. Nike forgives Tiger, much like his late father would have. And Tiger looks remorseful in the video. Whether or not it’s genuine is another story, but it paints a vivid picture of a man owning up to his mistakes and starting on the long road to redemption.

If Nike won’t sponsor overcoming adversity, then who will?