I couldn't help but overhear his pleas to his mother: "Mom? Can you pleeeeease get the toilet paper with the bear?" What followed was priceless. I watched this little tike wiggle his wee backside just like the cartoon bear in the Charmin TV commercial.
After that performance, she chose the Charmin toilet paper. The pudgy cartoon bear made the sale for Proctor & Gamble.
Half an hour later, while in the cashier's line, I looked over at the magazine rack. The titles read, "GM Ends Deal With Tiger Woods," "AT&T Has Dropped Tiger" and "Why Tiger Is Still the Best Gillette Can Get." It made me ponder whether the risk versus the value of having these celebrity endorsers is truly worthwhile over the long term. I imagine these companies would be thrilled with the Charmin bear as their spokesperson right now. Better yet, they would love "Mr. Clean." He cleans nasty messes rather than get into them.
Does star power truly sway us more than simple cartoons? Animated "personalities" like Geico's green gecko, 7-up's Fido Dido, Pillsbury's Dough Boy and Michelin's Tire Man have been warmly welcomed into our homes with unwavering brand recognition. They seem to withstand the test of time, too. Better yet, they don't have a personal life, they have no dirty laundry, they don't age, they do exactly what you want them to do and they work for free for as long as you want! Is it possible that cartoon spokespersons make a better choice?
Human nature creates uncertainty and risk. Being a human "celebrity" not to mention larger-than-life celebrity creates megarisk. These celebrity souls swim in a sea of temptation, which makes them exceedingly fallible. It is almost unfair, even na´ve, to think they will not do something eventually to embarrass a branding program.
It is not surprising in our celebrity-obsessed world to see companies trying to capitalize on fleeting fame and the dream of "the Oprah effect" for their products and services. But it seems to me that it is just a matter of time before we see these celebrities take a deep tumble--and sadly, the higher they are, the harder they fall.
What kind of risk management plans do these companies have for their spokespeople? Are they truly prepared for the day when their key endorser trips? Are strict "morals clauses" as standard contract terms enough to keep our spokespeople in check?
Basic rules of risk management promote diversification as a sound risk control strategy for corporate portfolios, something I would expect a risk management consulting firm to know. No need for me to further highlight the repercussions of the "one-man brand" and the risks connected to placing an organization's entire brand in the hands of a single human. I suspect we will see a redirection in corporate branding and a change in marketing approaches going forward. I see a need to mix it up. Maybe bring more make-believe players to the table. Players we can actually control.
To quote John F. Kennedy, "Those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside."
JOANNA MAKOMASKI, the former risk manager for an energy delivery company, is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques with V3 Advisory Group.
February 1, 2010
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