Monday, July 18, 2016

Nike holds the flag up high for celebrity advertising

It is okay to splurge on a celebrity ambassador, but keep a few things in mind while doing it
The 2016 Wimbledon Women’s champion was, hold your breath, Serena Williams! She equalled Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slams and beat her own record of being the oldest women’s player to win the record. I guess most people were happy as they admire her tenacity, fitness and will to win. None more than Nike the brand that she is endorsing. Let’s for the moment ignore my disappointed friends who for some unknown reason were supporting Maria Sharapova who too was an earlier Nike model. But let me come back to Serena and invite you to view the Nike commercial if you haven’t already seen it.

Having been in advertising for two long, I can’t rate it as an all time classic but it brings out an important feature of the brand and that is “attitude”. Nike is all about champions who hate to lose and Serena certainly is a champion and as her record demonstrates, the one thing she hates is losing, even to her distinguished sister.

Catch them young
Nike has not always been the dominant brand that it is today. In the early days Phil Knight would roam the colleges of the US with shoes in his car, find budding athletes and exhort them to wear his shoes. Some of them obliged and few of them graduated to being champions and they remembered the brand that had supported them before they were stars. The brand’s essence though was clear - it was for athletes who had the grit, desire and attitude to put in the hard miles. People who hated to lose whether it was Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Shane Warne or our own Serena Williams.

Match the celebrity with your brand’s personality
While signing on a champion athlete for your brand per se is no big deal, Nike’s best ambassadors have been those who were at times at the edge in behaviour. People who didn’t always conform. They have had their brushes with authority and often controversy. They don’t hold back. A bit like Serena who spoke about the disparity in prize money between men and women or wore clothes that made people raise their eyebrows. Two such earlier champions were Andre Agassi and our Shane Warne. 

Since I am assuming you are cricket mad like me, let me wax eloquent on the greatest spinner of my lifetime. One of the best commercials of Nike featured the classic spinner. The script is worth recalling though the commercial has been pulled off YouTube.
When would you give up asks the voice over. When the wickets refuse to fall? When you are told your team is better off without you or when your child is born on the other side of the world? And we have a dejected Shane Warne on the frame but as they say you can’t keep a Nike model down. The film cuts to his bowling Herchelle Gibbs with an unplayable ball in the 99 World Cup semi-final and the rest as they say is history. The commercial ends with the celebrated Nike tag line of “Just do it “. Yes, Shane Warne was the man of the series in the 99 World Cup that I had the good fortune to watch live.

Think long term
This leads me to the learning from Nike a brand I admire. Nike thinks long term when it comes to celebrities. Today, sadly many brands and brand managers are obsessed with the short run and quick fixes. Its celebrity strategy is not new and some of the greatest sportsmen and athletes have been proud of this superior brand. This is an important aspect of successful brands like Pepsi and Nike who have been consistent in their strategy of always using celebrities. And in the case of Nike there is another feature that I have noticed and admired. They have always looked for champion athletes and sportsmen but like Warne they have always been people who live on the edge, who are unafraid of speaking their mind and who have the odd transgression as they are human after all. But they are all people with “attitude” and people who hate losing.

So what’s your strategy?
This leads me to an important question for your own brand. Yes, it is okay to use a celebrity and pay an arm and leg for it. But is your strategy in place and more importantly is it long term. And finally does your celebrity’s personality match your brand’s personality?
Think about it before just doing it!

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