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Brand Ambassadors: For Better for Worse

Brand ambassadors are everywhere – from celebrities and influencers endorsing products on Instagram, all the way up to professional athletes starring in multi-million-dollar branding campaigns for major corporations. This tactic is popular and used to cut through the clutter of traditional advertising by taking advantage of the ambassadors’ already-established credibility.

When brand ambassadors go rogue

Things are all sunshine and rainbows with brand ambassadors until they make a mistake. Remember, you made a deal to use their credibility in exchange to generate awareness for your brand, and with that, you also aligned your brand with their actions and reputation.

Cam Newton made a remark during a recent press conference that struck a nerve with the public and has been labeled as a sexist remark by media. Upon receiving a question from The Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue regarding wide receiver Devin Funchess’ route running, Newton smiled and said, “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes. It’s funny.”

Rodrigue reported the incident on Twitter and released a statement through The Charlotte Observer via email saying that Newton did not apologize when they spoke after the news conference, including that she “was dismayed by his response, which not only belittled me but countless other women before me and beside me who work in similar jobs. I sought Mr. Newton out as he left the locker room a few minutes later. He did not apologize for his comments.”

Timing is everything; don’t be too little too late

According to Forbes, Cam Newton made $26 million last year – more than half of which was earned from endorsements, including Beats Electronics, Gatorade, Electronic Arts and Under Armour, among others. The NFL, which often uses videos and photos of Newton in league advertisements, released a statement shortly after the comment from Newton.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said that Newton’s comments “are just plain wrong and disrespectful to the exceptional female reporters and all journalists who cover our league. They do not reflect the thinking of the league.”

When issues like this occur, it’s important to respond immediately. This allows for the least amount of backlash to occur, communicating to the public that your organization does not support or tolerate this type of behavior or commentary.

Dannon released a statement less than 24 hours after the incident occurred, cutting its ties with Newton. “We are shocked and disheartened at the behavior and comments of Cam Newton towards Jourdan Rodrigue, which we perceive as sexist and disparaging to all women,” Neuwirth, senior director of external communications for Dannon, said in a statement. “It is entirely inconsistent with our commitment to fostering equality and inclusion in every workplace. It’s simply not OK to belittle anyone based on gender. We have shared our concerns with Cam and will no longer work with him.”

Silence is deafening

Oftentimes, organizations feel that if they do not comment, they will excuse themselves from the conversation. That is a major mistake. While not every action or issue needs a statement from a brand ambassador’s organization (only those that are considered controversial or offensive) conversations should be had quickly on whether or not to respond. In the world of social media, even waiting a day can spark controversy on social media channels.

While Newton did eventually issue a personal apology via Twitter, calling his comments “extremely degrading and disrespectful,” many viewed it as too little too late, especially since he did not refer to Rodrigue by name. Several brands, including Dannon,  had already started cutting ties with him. Following Sunday’s game in Detroit, Newton was asked about his comments to Rodrigue and said that he was trying to compliment her with “sarcasm,” admitting that it “turned in ways [he] never would have imagined.”

The biggest takeaways for brands

Understanding how brand ambassadors can impact your brand (positively and negatively) is critical. Here are a few steps you can take to make sure your brand is represented well when entering into a relationship with an influencer:

  1. Understand that brand ambassadors are not perfect
  2. Monitor media and utilize social media listening tools for controversies/potential issues
  3. Be timely and strategic in your response (if a response is needed)

In some cases, your company may have paid someone specifically to represent your brand, but it is also possible for an unendorsed celebrity to make a misstep when mentioning your brand, catching your company in the crossfire. No matter the case, it’s important to have a response plan in place in advance of an issue, to protect your brand’s image and reputation.

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Don’t make these mistakes with your ad spend

Advertising campaigns are often heralded for their creative ingenuity, but you never would have seen those ads had a media department not researched, planned and executed the media buy to make sure the right people actually see it. As technology has grown over recent years, there are many more places for brands to advertise to consumers. At the same time, there also is growing consumer discontent with the frequency, type and intrusion of ads. This is why brands must focus on all aspects of their advertising strategy, ensuring that not only the theme is right, but perhaps just as importantly, the timing, targeting, audience and delivery also are on target.

 

Timing

On Monday, September 4, 2017, the Monday of the opening weekend of college football, Tennessee played Georgia Tech in the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but football wasn’t the only competition that took place. BMW – Mercedes’ biggest competitor – played a little game of their own. Not only did BMW sponsor portions of ESPN’s broadcast, it also ran ads in numerous commercial breaks (a smart strategy to steal the show from its fellow German automaker). The puzzling piece: BMW’s ads were promoting their Labor Day sale, driving prospects to their local dealership to take advantage of a promotion that already had ended (given that the game was played the night of Labor Day).

BMW’s mistake highlights the importance of ensuring your ads are timely. When running a promotion, timing is everything. If you’re paying to run during a particular schedule, running the incorrect ad can be detrimental to your strategy and your bottom line. For example, make sure the ads for your Fourth of July special end prior to the store closing (if not slightly before).

 

Targeting

Just as you don’t want an ad to reach the wrong demographic, you don’t want to associate your brand with violent or tragic content. Brand safety is a huge concern for advertisers on a host of platforms. If your brand isn’t careful, you can leave your consumers with negative connotations when an ad is served with content that is not right for your brand. Even when a placement makes sense contextually, there are barriers that can be put in place to protect your brand from running alongside tragedies, social issues and other questionable content.

A digital ad for cruise lines appears next to a sinking cruise ship

 

Audience

Making sure that the message of your ad resonates with your target audience and aligns with your brand’s values is critical. Conceptually, Levi developed a great campaign that made sense for the brand. They touted their new line of jeans in different fits for women of different shapes and sizes – an important effort and topic of conversation in today’s world and media landscape. The visual representation of this new line fell short, even coming off as offensive to some women. Instead of choosing women who would represent their message, Levi chose models that many female consumers felt did not represent women of all body types, resulting in criticism for the denim brand.

Mistakes on audience targeting

Using data to your advantage can be extremely effective for all types of advertising campaigns. Targeted data used properly is critical and can make a positive impact on consumer relationships; data used incorrectly can do the opposite. For example, if you purchase an outfit for your precious newborn niece, that doesn’t make you a new mother. However, data providers look at purchase behaviors to identify consumer profiles–and thus, if a new aunt buys new born bottles, baby blankets and bibs, there is a likelihood she will receive “Congrats on the new bundle of joy!” emails, mailers, display ads, etc. Take a cue from Amazon’s recent mistake and make sure that your targeting efforts (and digital platforms) are on-strategy and functioning correctly.

 

Delivery

As the world of digital access and social media has grown, consumers have become accustomed to having any data they want at their fingertips, which has resulted in a growing desire for transparency and authenticity. Influencer marketing has seen tremendous growth, as influencers are a more natural and authentic way for brands to extend themselves into consumers’ lives. Although most consumers recognize sponsored posts when they see them, consumers tend to be more receptive to these types of ads compared to other paid advertisements, as they feel more native to the user experience.

Screenshots of influencer mistakes

Influencers are human too, and mistakes can happen if you aren’t careful. When they do, social-savvy consumers are likely to immediately hold the brand accountable. Brands need to ensure that all parties are on the same page to not make the same mistake the influencers pictured did, especially when working with an influencer as high-profile as Oprah (as someone on her publicity team is likely publishing content on her behalf). Tweeting from an iPad – Microsoft Surface’s direct competitor – was a completely avoidable mistake. Meanwhile, Scott Disick’s social media copy and paste job could maybe have used a bit more clarity about the difference between instructions and caption content.

 

No one wants to be the one to shoot down an idea, but thinking through and expressing all the ways a campaign can go wrong – both from a creative perspective and media strategy perspective – is extremely important. This allows brands to stay out of controversy and avoid preventable situations, and most definitely ensuring a plan is in place in case something out of the company’s control arises. Take adequate time to ask questions, then plan and ask questions again to ensure your campaign goes according to strategy and doesn’t garner negative attention.

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