AirTran Airways has signed Orlando Magic All-Star Center Dwight Howard to a multi-year contract.
Howard -- who is also an Olympic gold medalist, 2008 NBA Slam Dunk Champion and leader of the 2009 Eastern Conference Champions -- will be featured in radio spots, online advertising and high-impact billboards.
"We could work with Dwight on other media, including TV, in the future," says Christopher White, AirTran Airways director of public relations.
To officially kick off this partnership, Howard, along with AirTran Airways and Orlando Magic executives, unveiled "Magic 1" -- a one-of-a-kind Boeing 717 painted in the Magic's colors -- in Orlando, Fla.
Despite the ongoing sex saga involving Tiger Woods, which has resulted in several sponsors dropping him, White tells Marketing Daily that the airline is not concerned about signing celebrity endorsers.
"We carefully select the athletes and celebrities we choose to associate ourselves with," White says. "Dwight Howard is one of the brightest stars in the NBA and is equally dedicated to the communities he grew up and now lives in. These attributes are very similar to our corporate philosophy of staying involved in the communities we serve. We couldn't be happier with our association with Dwight, his family and his foundation."
Since being selected as the first overall player in the 2004 draft, Howard has distinguished himself with numerous awards and accolades, including being named an All-Star three times; being the youngest player ever to reach 3,000, 4,000 and 5,000 rebounds; and winning a gold medal with Team USA in the 2008 Summer Olympics. Howard has also been involved in several charitable endeavors,, including the creation of the Dwight D. Howard Youth Foundation.
Howard joins other high-profile sports endorsers on the AirTran Airways' roster, including quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Donovan McNabb; hockey stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Kari Lehtonen; baseball all-star Ryan Braun; pitcher Tom Glavine; and IndyCar racer Danica Patrick.
"Associating ourselves with some of the biggest names in sports has been great for AirTran," White says. "Sports fans are particularly passionate about their teams and favorite athletes. By partnering with these stars, we not only raise the profile of our airline in the minds of these consumers, but our goal is to translate that increased awareness into revenue through flight bookings."
Ann Green, Sr., senior vice president, marketing solutions, Millward Brown, says it's important for brands to constantly monitor the "brand health" of their spokespeople.
"It is critical for marketers to stay on top of how celebrity spokespersons are perceived, particularly how their personality and values align with the brand," Green tells Marketing Daily. "While the return on celebrity partnerships can be significant, so is the cost, and brands must remember that celebrities are human and subject to flaws."
Millward Brown's Cebra scoring has shown that celebrity "slips" can quickly impact fan perceptions, which can be quite long-lasting.
"Some stories about celebrities are short-lived and don't have a real effect on brand equity, while others can have a long-term impact -- particularly once the buzz dies down and if affinity has suffered," Green adds.