Brand Ambassadors – good or bad for business?

Brand Ambassadors – good or bad for business? teaser

Date published 13 Mar 2019

Brand Ambassadors – good or bad for business?

When international tennis star, Roger Federer, posted a selfie with one of the planet’s rarest marsupials he catapulted little-known Rottnest Island on to the world stage via social media. One year later, he did the same thing with the Pinnacles.


This was not a random or chance encounter but a strategic effort to broadcast the delights of Western Australia’s Rottnest Island and the Pinnacles to the global travel market.

Metrix Consulting’s Brand Strategy expert, Meredith Simpson, says using Roger Federer, an authentic and likeable celebrity, created maximum exposure via his own social media followers and encouraged a great deal of mainstream media coverage.

Federer was a good fit for the state. His clean-cut image and affable personality are perceived as laid back and fun, with his endorsement of some of our key attractions branding Western Australia in a similar light to the rest of the world.

Not all brand ambassadors are as good a choice as Federer. Cricketer Steven Smith pre “Sand-paper-gate” was seen as a good looking and likeable sports star until the fall-out of the cheating scandal.

As his endorsements faded away there was a lesson to be learnt for all and that was the risk a brand takes when relying on celebrities and influencers.

Humans are unpredictable and no one is perfect all of the time. There is always the risk that your ambassador could end up associated with something negative.

British Paints is a perfect example of what can go horribly wrong. Rolf Harris was the face of the brand for decades. He had become synonymous with the paint brand as far back as the 70s and he would have been used to help reinforce trust in the brand. Most people would have seen him as a safe bet until he fell rapidly from grace when he was found guilty of multiple sexual assault charges and jailed.

Meredith says there is literally nothing you can do to prevent this sort of thing from happening altogether. All you can do is minimise risk and be ready to respond.

“You minimise risk by conducting adequate vetting of any potential ambassador, and by making sure your contracts with them give you an out if they do something that could reflect poorly on your brand. Don’t go into it blindly. You must have a clear strategy for what you will do if the worst should happen. This is no different to risk management for any other function of the business,” she says.

Meredith believes it’s about ensuring their values as a person align with your values as a brand. For example, if you’re a conservative brand, it wouldn’t make sense for you to align your organisation with a party animal who has a history of being involved in scandals.

Similarly, if you’re a brand that is a bit fun and cheeky, having someone who is stiff and boring isn’t going to work either. It’s all about what you want to portray about your company to the world, and who is going to be the best fit to help you do that.

Qantas using John Travolta is an interesting one. He isn’t just a celebrity, he has a genuine connection with the brand, he is a fully trained pilot and he owns a Qantas plane. Again, it comes back to two questions:

Does this person align with our brand values?

Is the connection going to be seen as genuine and authentic?

And if the worst should happen and you are facing a public relations disaster, don’t gloss over it. Own it and do your best to use a negative in a positive and smart strategy.

Seek professional help to mitigate any potential disasters and always be prepared to take advice on these matters.

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