Historically, sporting personalities have proved the most successful, though there are exceptions. The most memorable and longstanding endorsements involve a great match between the values of a brand, the quality and type of product, and the right celebrity face to champion it. For example, Michael Jordan and Nike created possibly the founding father of the “mega” celebrity endorsement when they teamed up in 1984 and Gary Lineker’s long-term association with PepsiCo and their Walker’s crisps brand in the UK works so well because both the brand and celebrity are down-to-earth and originate in Leicester. Outside of sport, George Clooney and Nespresso are such a good fit because both have an air of sophistication and suavity which neatly complements the other.
Meanwhile, badly thought out endorsements have the potential to negatively impact a brand. However, there’s a new breed of celebrity endorsement that goes beyond these examples of the traditional transient coming together of a celebrity and brand. It has the power to completely transform the performance of a brand, without sacrificing any of the equity or integrity of the celebrity. By evolving beyond paying a celebrity for their involvement alone and instead giving them a voice and, more importantly, a stake in the product, stronger ties are formed between brands and celebrities. Simply put, celebrities will be more willing to get involved with a brand partnership if it helps raise their profile and ultimately their bank balance. It’s not a new phenomenon – one of the best examples of this kind is the George Foreman Grill, which has sold over 100 million units for Salton since 1994, with Foreman taking 45 per cent of the profit.
Recently, in addition to his already successful partnership with H&M, David Beckham teamed up with drinks brand Diageo to launch Haig whisky, aimed at people who don’t think they like whisky. This is a shrewd bit of branding, an icon to many who imitate his style, many consumers might not think of David Beckham as someone who likes whisky but think again, the stylish Millennials as portrayed in the high profile Guy Ritchie directed ATL may make you change your mind – or at least try it.
This clearly goes further than being a celebrity endorsement and Beckham is no mere brand ambassador. Instead, it’s a business partnership, with Beckham surely being one of the reasons the whisky is being packaged in its uniquely square blue bottle, rather than the more traditional tall clear bottles, immediately placing itself apart from the fusty whisky crowd. And, while the terms of the partnership weren’t disclosed, one imagines that Beckham has a financial interest in the success of the brand, which gives him a reason to be more deeply involved in its success or failure. It’s likely Diageo hopes to replicate the previous success of its brand Ciroc’s partnership with Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs in 2007. Comb’s partnership with Diageo saw sales jump 40 fold, and led to a subsequent 50/50 partnership between the two for DeLeon Tequila, which sells for between $120-1000 per bottle. As Combs said at the time of the DeLeon deal, “With Ciroc we dated. Now with DeLeon, we’re married. This deal is way better.”
Interestingly, this new model of brand partners and ambassadors has even spread beyond brands such as Rimmel with Rita Ora, but also to the high street; look at the aforementioned H&M collaborations, Dorothy Perkins with Kim Kardashian, and Top Shop with Kate Moss. So when David Gandy and M&S announced their partnership, many industry jaws dropped. To most, M&S pants conjures images of Middle England, and perhaps middle-aged men who aren’t that interested in fashion but want reliable, quality underwear to wear. But by going into partnership with David Gandy, M&S has made a huge statement. It’s potentially transformative for its menswear section and, more specifically, consumer perception of the M&S brand globally.
David Gandy isn’t just the model face on the posters and adorning buses, he also had an active role in the design of the new range. By being involved in the product development, he will undoubtedly gain from their sales, clearly a strong collaboration. Some of the UK media commented that it risks alienating some of M&S’s core market, but to me it’s obvious that by forming such a daring partnership with arguably the world’s most recognisable male model, M&S are targeting a new demographic by taking the brand into Calvin Klein territory, opening the door to a much younger male audience and perhaps those men who still have their underwear bought by their significant other. Gandy and M&S may well have just pulled off the most surprising and profitable celebrity endorsement of the year, the benefits of which will no doubt extend across many categories and territories.