There is increasing use of brand, product and company ambassadors by companies, governments, professional organisations and not-for-profit entities.
It can be an effective means to enhance profiles, elicit responses, increase uses and generate financial contributions, as well as communicate with select target audiences, at discrete times.
The options available to choose and use a “face for the purpose” seem boundless. Such is the nature of the celebrity era in which we live and operate.
However, the practice is fraught with dangers. Inappropriate behaviour, conflicting values and variable presentation standards on the part of individual and group ambassadors can, and do, have immediate and lasting consequences for the sponsoring entity, product, service or sector.
Look no further than the Australian National Rugby League (NRL) which has been a serial offender or victim, dependent upon your point of view.
Multimillion dollar advertising, marketing and promotion campaigns have been significantly compromised by the behaviour of and the circumstances surrounding chosen high profile players. Read: brand-damage.
International gold-medal swimmer, Stephanie Rice experienced the immediacy of public and sponsor responses to what many considered where inappropriate tweets about her then beau, Rugby Union Wallaby player Quade Cooper.
Her use of a three-star luxury imported German motor vehicle was withdrawn. Hurt was inflicted on a lot more than emotions by the instance.
More recently, the Australian Federal government, through the bureaucracy and its external advertising agency, appointed media identity, scientist and academic, Professor Karl Kruszelnicki to be the face, voice and presence of an expensive, extensive and intensive multi-media campaign, “The Challenge of Change”, to promote the virtues of the the 400 plus pages Intergenerational Report .
Karl's satirical statement was louder than his voice. It did grab attention, if not induce the masses to seek out, read, comprehend, embrace and support of the projective text.
It then emerged that after accepting the brief, the commission and the very substantial fee, Karl had not read the full report. Hardly a positive reflection on an established scientist.
Dr Kruszelnicki then publicly distanced himself from the report because, in his assessment, there was insufficient emphasis given to climate change.
Brand-damage has been inflicted on the Australian Federal government, the bureaucracy, a specific adverting agency, the report itself and on Dr Karl.
The resultant publicity generated in this case study was substantial, immediate and lasting. Sadly, much of it was unfortunate, negative and compromising.
It should be a lesson well learnt. The criteria applied in the selection of ambassadors must necessarily extend well beyond past and present achievements, profile and the capacity to be an effective mass – and multimedia communicator.
Consistent, compatible and integrated values, beliefs and philosophies are fundamental. There should be no gaps between those of the sponsor and the ambassador.
A further consideration on this topic is the use and profiling of business owners and managers.
In the former case, the issue of succession planning is very pertinent. Retention of an individual's name in the corporate identification package, whilst using next-generation family members in mass media advertising considerably lessens the impact and relevance of the communication.
That is self-evident with a national tyre retail group and several motor vehicle dealerships. There is confusion about who is the image-maker, the ambassador or the advocate.
The typically short tenure of senior office-bearers in corporations raises questions about the advisability of utilising such individuals as the public face of an entity, a product, a service or an application.
Mortality is a reality, particularly in marketing life cycles.
Ambassadors are usually best employed for time-specific tactical initiatives and campaigns. That is, for intra-generational campaigns rather than for the promotion of inter-generation projections.
Their selection warrants the investment of considerable time and contemplation.
Barry Urquhart of Marketing Focus is a consumer behaviour analyst, business strategist and former university lecturer and organisational behaviourist.
He is an internationally recognised and respected conference keynote speaker and business development workshop facilitator.