Back In The Game: How Much Else Should You Ask An Athlete For?

Tiger Woods is back doing what he does best: playing golf. Is that good enough? How much should we expect of an athlete endorsing our brand?

Some of Tiger Woods' sponsors have chosen to focus more narrowly on Woods' athleticism, such as EA Sports or Nike. These brands have continued their relationship with him after his extramarital affairs became public. Other marketers such as P&G and Accenture seem to have felt that Tiger's tumultuous private life made him unfit as a broader spokesperson for their brands' values and, consequently, dropped or de-emphasized their sponsorship relationship.

Our research framework called Cebra -- the Celebrity Brand Connection -- helps marketers assess the attractiveness of specific celebrities, such as movie stars or athletes, as endorsers for their brands. The research looks at three criteria, three times per year:

  • Two general criteria: Fame and Marketability, combined into an overall "Cebra Score," measuring a celebrity's endorsement power
  • A brand specific variable: Personality Fit with the brand

We saw Tiger Woods' Fame score increase as a result of the disclosure of his extramarital affairs in November 2009 -- he was "hot" news. Woods' Marketability score, on the other hand, didn't do as well. Marketability looks at the extent to which a celebrity is seen as a role model, and as best-in-class in what he/she does.

In Woods' case, the role model score was extremely low in February after the scandal, but Woods was still seen as a best-in-class athlete. Tiger Woods' overall Cebra Score dropped by about 10 points, to 61 in February 2010, still above the database average of 47. Of course, the Cebra Score conveys only endorsement "power," not specific brand Personality Fit.

So the takeaway on Tiger Woods is quite consistent with actual events. He may still be okay, depending on what you expect him to do for your brand, and how your brand fits with him. If all you want him to do is lend his qualities as an athlete to your brand, it may be fine, as long as your customers aren't put off by all the negative press.

That seems to be Nike and EA Sports' bet. If you want Woods to be a broader brand spokesperson personalizing values beyond just his athletic performance, you may want to hold off. That is the thinking behind Accenture and P&G de-emphasizing him in their marketing.

Time and again, celebrity scandals show the risks associated with having stars take on too broad of a brand endorsement role. Just because somebody is a top athlete or an amazing singer or actor, it doesn't necessarily mean he or she can be a moral values role model.

Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate the unknowns associated with celebrity endorsements.

First, diversify by signing on more than just one celebrity. That should also generate broader appeal for your brand. Next, limit your celebrity's role in your marketing to what they are known for. Avoid hinging your full brand positioning on one celebrity.

If you want a brand personification, consider making it one you have control over, for example, an animal (the GEICO gecko) or a fictional person (the now defunct "Dell Dude"). Finally, if you absolutely need "real" brand personifications, rotate them. Chanel has been doing that successfully for years, successively employing Nicole Kidman (2004), Keira Knightley (2007), and now Audrey Tatou, just to name a few.

Don't forget: Tiger Woods is not the only golfer out there. Phil Mickelson -- an already successful brand endorser -- just won the Masters Tournament. More marketers may be coming his way.

1 comment about "Back In The Game: How Much Else Should You Ask An Athlete For?".
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  1. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, April 21, 2010 at 11:07 a.m.

    Why would a brand assume the expensive risk of a potential clay idol when they can just as easily, and perhaps more effectively, invent their own risk-free celebrity endorser? Case in point, Dos Equis' "Most Interesting Man in the World".

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