Lance Armstrong. Self admitted drug taker, doper, liar, perjurer and cheat. Tiger Woods, serial philanderer, destroying his (previous) clean cut image. Sir Jimmy Savile OBE: ‘predatory sex offender’ according to Scotland Yard, and paedophile accused of abusing over 300 vulnerable children including mentally handicapped and terminally ill hospital patients.
What all these personalities have in common is that they all held significant commercial and charity endorsements. People like famous people. Marketers like people who people like. Nothing can create a winning product quite as quickly as a strong endorsement from a well-known personality. Take the George Foreman Grill. Or to give it it’s full title, the ‘ George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine’, which has sold over 100 million units as a result of the aging heavyweight world-boxing champion’s popular infomercials. George’s famous signoff line “It’s so good I put my name on it” has entered popular culture. Without his endorsement the grill would have remained just another far less profitable ‘snackwich-maker’. Wouldn’t we all, as marketers, like to share similar success?
Of course when things go wrong for the personality endorsing a product, they do go spectacularly wrong. Tag Heuer, Gatorade, Gillette, Accenture, AT&T, Golf Digest, Buick (General Motors), Titleist, and American Express all rapidly jumped from the Tiger ship at the height of his crisis. Interestingly Nike stuck with him. For the rest, the positive attributes Tiger had previously exhibited and which they had hoped would rub off on their brand suddenly became a huge liability. It’s what I call the ‘congressman effect’: the fact that it always seems to be the congressman who extols family values who then embarrasses himself, caught up in a sexual imbroglio – like the aptly named Anthony Weiner, forced to resign from congress having sent an inappropriate photo of himself to a female Twitter follower while his newly married wife was expecting their first baby.
The spectacular downfall of the likes of Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong has not, it seems dampened large brands’ enthusiasm for celebrity endorsements. Nike has just signed Rory McIlroy for a reported $250 million, and produced a rather clever ad with both he and Tiger. Pepsi has just signed Beyonce for $50 million and perhaps surprisingly Chanel No. 5 now features Brad Pitt in its much-parodied $7 million ad.
Not all endorsements are world-class sports and media personalities. The introduction of social media has increased the importance of recommendations from ordinary users of your products and services. The world has become a more transparent place. A place in which consumers are (even) more cynical of what marketers tell them, and more trusting of advice from ‘friends’ even if such ‘friendship’ is of the more superficial Facebook variety. The average Facebooker has 190 ‘friends’ – a far wider influencer set than ten years ago. Sadly, consumers may take more cognisance of a Facebook friend they haven’t physically seen since school than overt product information from an advertiser. So given this context and the reality that most organisations don’t have millions of dollars to spend on celebrity endorsements, what opportunities do endorsements, testimonials and recommendations offer?
Market research based recommendations can be powerful, provided they are credible, relate to a recognised body of respondents and you have verifiable independent evidence of your claims. Of course they need to be stated in a non-technical and impactful way. Examples that come to mind include: “Sensodyne is the No.1 dentist recommended brand for sensitive teeth” and “Panado – The GP’s choice”. Risks include your competitors contesting the independence or validity of the research your recommendation is based on, or perhaps even worse, you losing the support of the market and consequently the endorsement over time. If you operate as a market leader in a more niche market, research of a viable sample by an independent research company could be a relatively cost effective way of building a powerful positioning which would be very difficult for competitors to replicate.
Ever wondered why you see so many serious looking ‘experts’ in white coats in adverts? The current Life Buoy ‘Clini Care 10’ television ad being a great example as a whole auditorium of white-coats applaud their hero – a bar of hand soap. By association viewers associate the product with an endorsement or recommendation by doctors. Without being disingenuous, are there positive associations you can create through imagery for your brand?
Awards also offer opportunities to present evidence from a third party that your product enjoys wide recognition and support. The Sunday Times Top Brands Awards being a fine example. Multiple brands annually leverage their good showing in the various categories of this award in their paid-for adverting, while their PR companies send out a flurry of releases to gain exposure. Advertising agencies are famous for being defined by the awards they win. This is because a service, particularly one as intangible and subjective as advertising gains huge credibility from commendation through awards. Given that there is (to be cynical) virtually a whole industry of ‘awards’ of various stature, there is likely to be one your product or company could leverage to competitive advantage. One caveat: beware tying your brand to an award of obviously dubious credibility. If you have effectively paid for an award, your competitors can too, or more damagingly, point out your award’s lack of credibility.
Recommendations by known experts or organisations, if they can be negotiated for acceptable cost, add significant stature.
Pope Leo XIII famously endorsed ‘Vin Mariani’, a patent medicine containing cocaine, in 1863. Clearly such a recommendation would be rather more difficult today, but Gordon Ramsey’s endorsement of Checkers’ butchery adds huge credibility to a previously undifferentiated offering. BP Ultimate’s “Recommended by the AA” as the only fuel endorsed by the Automobile Association of South Africa distances the product from competitor products, which frankly were delivered through the same pipeline. Are there similar opportunities within your industry or market? Here again, operating within a specialised niche might bring the cost of such a recommendation within budget.
While the term ‘endorsement’ normally applies to support from a celebrity, ‘testimonial’ usually relates to ordinary customers. Testimonials in my mind started running out of steam 20 years ago, (remember those old OMO ads where a women told us all that she “nearly died” with embarrassment from the lack of cleanliness of her bowling dress?) but have revived in the last 10 years as social media has become ubiquitous. Testimonials can be an important part of communal marketing via social media. Its has become the expectation that customers tell other customers about their experience. Amazon explicitly leverages this on their site offering product recommendations exclusively from customers. A powerful variant of this is their product recommendation engine, which automatically cross-sells on the basis that “customers who bought product A, also bought product B”. Instil similar thinking across your social media platforms. Make it easy for happy customers to tell other customers about their (positive) experience. And of course leap on any customer complaints before they too are multiplied.
This article was first published in Your Business Feb 2012.
- Tiger close to new multiyear Nike deal (espn.go.com)
- Using Testimonials And Endorsements to Promote Your Book: A Guide For Self-Publishers (business2community.com)
- Cheerleader Elle Smith Signs On as Spokesperson for Cheerleading Apparel Company Chassé (prweb.com)
- 18 Athletes Who Make More Money Endorsing Products Than Playing Sports (businessinsider.com)
We’re losing the battle, forfeiting our power. Our mojo is weakening. Marketers are being squeezed-out by the machine. Consumers are being assimilated (like the Borg in Star Trek) into the interconnected collective of the market.
It used to be that marketing was about people – we even graciously added them to our “marketing p’s” when we expanded from four to seven p’s. Obviously they weren’t so important that they made it into the initial quadrumvirate, but we’ve grown to understand people. Research and insight teams helped. People liked us and our brands. It’s been a great century together, driving the economic miracle of consumption-driven capitalism. They were simple creatures these ‘people’. They diligently consumed traditional, mass media and didn’t talk back. Importantly, businesses selling to people need marketers with our addiction to expensive advertising and promotions, while media owners since Guttenberg have happily provided the setting for this love-in.
Party-pooper Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, OM, KBE, (‘Tim BL’ to his mates) gatecrashed the party with his Internet thingy. He seems like a bright guy – what was he thinking connecting the world like that? The tyranny of search. Price-comparison engines. Online shopping. It’s changed the game. Gone are the days when marketers decided what consumers would know, and where the only feedback was monthly brand awareness scores from the research house. Pay-per-click advertising’s explicit stats effectively writes its own copy. Comparison engines determine viable pricing. Social media feedback issues prompt snotklaps to campaigns that miss the mark.
The technologising of marketing is accelerating. The ‘Internet of things’, first proposed by Kevin Ashton – an expert in RFID (the technology that makes your staff access-card work) in 1999, will hasten this trend. Once virtually (pardon the pun) all marketable items are systemically identifiable within the ‘collective’ that is the Internet, the rules irrevocably change. Your fridge, having ascertained your habits, restocks itself automatically. Location-based services centred on consumers’ cell phones, combined with social media profiles such as “Klout”, will ensure automated marketing discount systems only offer free cappuccinos to those with high influence. Google, already ubiquitous in search, geospatial data (e.g. Google Maps, Earth) and consumer advertising behaviour reveals its true intention with acquisitions such as ITA Software, which offers “comprehensive airfare pricing and shopping options”. Sounds like marketing. Not sure their mantra of ‘don’t be evil’ will protect us.
Human assimilation into the marketing collective is next. For the duration of the 2012 Olympics, the London Eye ferris-wheel radiated the prevailing Olympic sentiment of the Twitterverse. An algorithm determined whether tweeters were collectively positive or negative, displaying their sentiment in the colour of the wheel’s illumination.
Combine this simple depiction of the current zeitgeist with individual consumer’s thoughts and assimilation would be complete. Emotiv, an Australian company, has developed a ‘revolutionary new personal interface for human computer interaction based on the latest developments in neuro-technology’. The $300 EPOC headset, according to its manufacturer, interprets facial expressions and emotional states in real-time while it reads and interprets a player’s conscious thoughts and intent.
So in my favourite scenario, your Internet-enabled fridge’s twitter algorithm notes an inconsistency between a particularly positive public spirit and lamentably low stocks of Champagne for a Friday night knees up. Checking your own sentiment from signals emanating from your neural headset, it determines you too are indeed in the party mood. Inviting your Facebook friends currently in town, (perhaps asking you to confirm those perennially on your “b-list”), it calculates the quantum of supplies needed. Utilising price comparison engines, it flashes a shortlist of three your favourite brands onto your computer. Your headset detects your reaction, picking your favourite. Later when only the hangover remains, your ever-helpful kitchen appliance tweets the attendees a survey, checking not only whether you did indeed choose the favourite Champers, but checking your personal party brand standing as well.
Marketers, we had better start learning machine language.
This article was first published in The Annual 2012.