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FEBRUARY 2013 COMMENT

Weight in gold or waste of space? Celebrity beverage brand ambassadors

By Ben Bouckley+

21-Feb-2013
Last updated on 21-Feb-2013 at 13:47 GMT2013-02-21T13:47:07Z

Eva Longoria believes in Pepsi NEXT (Picture Copyright: PepsiCo)
Eva Longoria believes in Pepsi NEXT (Picture Copyright: PepsiCo)

Whether it’s the latest starlet bouncing round in a boob tube, or that bad boy musician who swops his rap records for raki, there’s no doubting that celebrity endorsements are big business for the beverage industry

Whether one agrees or disagrees with such an approach to boosting sales (and it sometimes seems cynical) it’s clear that it can either work incredibly well or backfire spectacularly, especially for nascent beverage brands.

But I’m not feelin’ the celebrity love. I hate the endless, evangelical press releases on endorsements that crowd my inbox, long on waffle, short on detail, apparently dreamt up by a gaggle of scientologists who snorted speed in error then crashed a beverage expo.

Take these words fed to Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria – who at a Pepsi NEXT launch event in April 2012 chirruped that she wanted to turn “cola lovers in NYC into believers”.

Let’s step back and admire the woman’s passion. Because let’s be frank. She is being paid very well to feign it. Such wild celebrity/brand weddings seem either insane – the branding equivalent of losing a week in Vegas, being married by Elvis, then waking up in a wheelie bin, or the real (fake) deal. But ah! Love is blind…

Pharrell Williams v Diageo

Pharrell Williams? Never heard of him. Sorry Pharrell. Anyway, the (modest, yeah…) “award-winning musician, cultural ambassador and style visionary” claims on the Q Qream website that he dreamt-up the liqueur with Diageo to “celebrate the beautiful, independent and sophisticated women of today”.

Well wotevs, and I’ll dig out that sick bag, just in case. It’s not that you women of today aren’t beautiful, independent and sophisticated, it’s just that I’m not sure you needed Pharrell Williams to tell you that.

Especially when he appears on the Q Qream website caressing his own cheek  in a ‘Pharrell-is-sensitive-and-he-really-really-cares’ kinda pose in a lemon cardigan, looking like an extra from the 70s UK TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, and a faraway look that says ‘I understand you ladies’.

What happened next? Well, this is one big fat gypsy wedding that went wildly wrong, as the reception devolved into an unseemly food (or rather beverage) fight following the Q Qream launch in July 2011.

According to Williams, who has just begun a costly legal dogfight upon this basis, Diageo’s decision to ditch the brand (ostensibly due to lackluster sales) was down to its failure to market and distribute the drink properly.

I must say that I don’t think ‘Q Qream’ is the snappiest name for a cream liqueur, given that it calls to mind someone in a state of intoxication simultaneously struggling with a stutter and a lisp.

Put simply, if Diageo did get cold feet with this one – and the branding and positioning of the drink does seem strange to me – then I’m not entirely surprised they chose to cut and run.

‘Member of the Pepsi family…’

Anyway, look at the last few years and it’s clear that a shift has taken place – Eva Longoria doesn’t just sip Pepsi NEXT for the heck of it, she’s integral (so we are told) to the brand, as a “member of the Pepsi family for years”.

And it works for Pepsi. It’s a formula that’s as old as their cola, despite the tired sex-related stereotypes it perpetuates. Attractive woman + well-known soda = mutual branding boost by virtue of glamorous association.

The aura then becomes part of the product’s clearly innate excellence, even as it lends it something of halo effect, with the celebrity endorsement adding to the story behind the brand, its packaging and even its taste.

Studies – it’s almost lunchtime and I can’t be bothered to look any up, trust me, they exist – back this up. Stick a chick on a can or some chunk of hunk, and suddenly Bog Standard cola tastes better to some consumers.

Yet my cynicism is slightly misplaced. When I spoke to SK Energy CEO Chris Clarke last week , it was obvious that his relationship with rapper 50 Cent, and the latter’s ‘hands on’ brand involvement as an investor, was bearing fruit. This is a true success story, worthy of some admiration. 500,000 Facebook likes and counting.

So what’s the secret? Due diligence on a given celebrity, a true commitment on their part to your brand, and (unless they invest in it) money. Yes, money beyond what you need to establish a brand in the short to medium term. This is why big brand such as Diageo can afford the odd romantic mishap.

Celebrity endorsements can be amusing and add to trust levels buzz around a brand, helping one to reach desired and ever more diffuse consumer demographics, especially in the age of social media. Yes, they have their place. But if the criteria above are not met, then they’re not worth considering. For neither love nor money.