Brands & sponsorship… what happens when it goes pear-shaped?

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

It's by no means a new idea in marketing - celebrity endorsement increases brand recognition and sells product. After all, it’s based on simple logic – people (or fans) look up to celebrities and sports stars, so when these people are seen to be promoting a brand – be it in an ad or just on a piece of their clothing - viewers are prompted to think highly of that brand or buy that product.

The brand value added by a celebrity can be immediate and immense. When a celebrity endorses a brand, suddenly it provides credibility, simply because of the power of the name backing it up.

And as we sports-mad Australians are aware, these days our sports stars are just as much high-profile celebrities as are actors and singers.

So what happens when it all goes wrong? 

With the Australian cricket team’s ball tampering scandal currently making headlines around the world, suddenly some major sponsors are having to re-assess their relationships with the team (as well as with individual players). 

Weetbix-maker Sanitarium, which counts Steve Smith as a brand ambassador, said it was reviewing its sponsorship pending the outcome of an investigation by governing body Cricket Australia.

“Certainly it’s under review as the actions taken by the team in South Africa don’t align with our own values. Sanitarium does not condone cheating in sport,” the company said in a statement.

The sentiment was mirrored by nearly all of the Cricket Australia’s other commercial partners such as ASICS, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Bupa, Specsavers and Toyota.

Indeed, as Sanitarium states – if a sponsored player or team acts in a way that doesn’t align with the brand’s own values, there’s a problem. As a recipient of sponsorship, you are agreeing to represent a brand and you therefore have a responsibility to represent them in the best possible way.

Consequences of this ball tampering incident could see those individual cricketers involved stripped of their sponsorship deals, and could also see major sponsorships of the team discontinued.

According to its most recent annual report, Cricket Australia earned A$338.4 million in media, sponsorship and spectator fees in the financial year ended June 30, 2017. The value of its individual sponsorships are not disclosed.

Celebrity agent Max Markson believes Steve Smith and David Warner will be dumped by all their sponsors as a consequence of this negative publicity.

"They'll lose every single one of their contracts — nobody will stand by them," he said.

He said sponsorship contracts tend to contain a "morals clause", and "cheating" would see them fall foul of that.

And so, speaking of morals…. What’s the moral of this story?

If your business is looking to sponsor a celebrity, sports star or team, or even align with an influencer, do your homework first.

• Do they share the same values as your brand? (What’s their own brand like?)

• Will alignment with them encourage people to think highly of your brand?

• Do they speak to or connect with your target audience?

• Does your target audience look up to them?

• Remember – it’s not just what they will say – it’s how they conduct themselves in all aspects of their life that will reflect on your brand. 

If you’re a celebrity… please do the right thing – by your sponsors and by your fans.